Does your foot position matter? We can mostly all agree that it’s a bad idea to have a heavy heel strike with an overstride (more on that in another post!), but what about the other directions? Does it matter if feet are turned in or out? That brings us to Max’s story. He is a superstar high school runner looking to improve his running form. He doesn’t have an injury or limitations, but his feet tend to turn in which may be affecting his performance. So let’s break it down, here’s video of him running initially.
And here’s another with him running on his toes. The significance of using this as an assessment tool is to see how stable his feet are during the push-off phase, keeping him on his toes greatly minimizes the loading phase. This is where the minimalist movement really takes this concept and runs with it, but again, that’s a topic all it’s own.
And another with the instruction to take as long of strides as he can. This emphasizes the loading or landing phase of running.
If you contrast the two videos where he is running on his toes versus the longer strides (which leads to a heavier heel strike), he certainly looks sloppier through his hips and core during the longer strides. It’s subtle in the videos of him running normal and staying on his toes, but becomes more apparent in the third video. What is most obvious is how much extra movement occurs in his upper body. What this indicates is that his hips and feet are not able to adequately absorb the landing, causing his core and upper body to find goofy ways to leverage themselves so he can keep running. Will this affect his performance? Absolutely.
So, what to do about it. First, here’s a simple assessment for how well his hips are able to rotate. This is testing his hip’s flexibility with external rotation, which is critical for a smooth landing with running (and walking for that matter!).
As you can see, he is able to get about 45 degrees of rotation with this, at least 60 degrees is ideal. This combined with his running assessment tells us that he needs more flexibility in this direction, as well as the gross muscle stability to maintain good form in this direction.
Here’s what we did for Max. First a simple inner thigh/groin stretch. The key to this stretch is to keep the ground foot turned out to push the external rotation of the hip.
Next, another stretch for the posterior hip, also to gain better external rotation. If you’ve followed the blog, this one may look familiar!
Then we transitioned into stability exercises, again emphasizing core/hip movements into hip external rotation.
Here is what his run looks like after the stretches and stability exercises.
As you can see, his upper body looks more efficient and relaxed, which indicates that his hips are doing a better job of handling the landings.
Here’s a simple drill to do while running in order to build more stability/efficiency in the hips and core. By taking the arms out of their normal swing, it doesn’t allow him to use his upper body as much which forces his hips and lower core to be more stable.
After all this, here is what his run looks like.
Again, his upper body and hips look much more quiet and relaxed, which indicates that his hips and feet are better accommodating the landing phase. With consistent attention to his hip flexibility and building up strength and stability, he will see his form improve which should translate to better performance during races and workouts. Great job Max!