How much time do you spend paying attention to your feet and ankles? As a runner, do you look at your feet and ankles like bad dogs that you discipline with arch supports, stability shoes, NSAID’s, pain-killers, and ice? Do you look at ankle and foot pain as the cost of doing business as a runner?
I want you to do better. You can be a better owner of those dogs. You can turn your feet and ankles into steel springs that power you to higher levels of performance. You just need a plan to get there.
Enter Ready to Run Standard #7
#7 Ankle Range of Motion
The question today is do you have the requisite ankle range of motion to allow you to run efficiently? In addition to range of motion, we want to see that you have some actual strength in those dogs to actually use that full range of motion.
Though I’ve spent the better part of a decade now in the world of physical therapy, it never ceases to amaze me how much pain and suffering that folks will put up with in their feet and ankles before they ask for help. Heroism is not what running should be all about. Suffering should come in the form of pushing yourself to run farther and faster, not in an attempt to see how far you go until you break, but to challenge your beliefs about your own capacities to perform.
There are untapped reservoirs of strength, power, and endurance in your lower legs and feet. You will not access these overnight, but if you make the commitment to take better care of your body, you will be shocked to observe how much better your feet and ankles and feet can feel with just a small dose of regular care. How long will it take? It depends on your situation. At a minimum you’ll need 10 minutes a day for 90 days. I’ve had clients where the timeline is closer to six months, and some that take closer to 1 year. While this seems a lengthy commitment, is 10 minutes a day for a year that huge of a time-suck if your goal is to be able to run for the entirety of your life?
We prioritize full foot and ankle mobility and motor control because the lack of capacity in this area predisposes you to further orthopedic issues at the knee, hip, and lumbar spine. If you run like a duck with your feet turned out, as your heel strikes at impact your entire lower body collapses inward to create stability. The most likely outcomes of such mechanics are medial (the inner half) knee pain, hip impingement (a pinching feeling in the front of your hip or groin), and the smoldering fire of a low back ache as you collapse on your lumbar vertebrae in an attempt to find stability through your pelvis and low back. This is a recipe to flip your physical status from “runner” into “former-runner”.
How do you know if you’ve got full ankle capacity? With the two tests below:
The Pistol Squat Test
The Pistol is the bane of folks with hip flexion and ankle dorsiflexion (foot pulled up towards the shin) limitations. Not only will it illuminate your restrictions in both areas, it will tell you how capable your body is of maintaining good position under end-range load.
Here’s the scoop on how to test yourself:
Get in a braced position in standing, with your feet together.
Lower yourself into a squat position. Because we are just testing your ability to get into end-range ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion, don’t worry if your back rounds in the bottom of your squat.
Shift your weight to your right leg and extend your left leg out in front of you. Your right knee should be driving outside your right foot and your arch should be stable. If you’ve got those positions, you pass.
If you’re knee has drifted inside your foot, your foot turns out and your arch collapses towards the floor, and your can’t correct those positions, you’ve got a new homework assignment.
The Plantarflexion Test
This one is simple: can you sit on the tops of your feet with your butt resting on top of your heels?
If you can’t reach this position, can’t tolerate holding this position for 60 seconds, or have pain in your hips, knees, ankles or feet, again, you’ve got some homework to attend to.
We’ve posted quite a bit of content already on restoring the normal capacity of your lower legs and feet. There’s the one we did here, and another one we did here, and then that other one we did over here.
The rewards for restoring your normal foot and ankle range of motion and strength are tremendous: decrease likelihood of injury, increased performance, optimized lower body mechanics, and less wear and tear on all of the joints of your lower body. It will take some work to reach this standard. Dig in! The things in life that are worth having are worth working towards.
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