Friday, December 9, 2011

The Care and Prevention of Injuries Part 2:

Care and Conditioning of the Feet

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series
I have worked in the Health, Fitness, and Dance Industry for over 20 years.
My education and experience has given me the knowledge to understand how the Care and Conditioning of the Feet can impact the care and prevention of injuries

My feet in my favorite pair of Teva sandals, after a 15 mile hike/trail run with over 8,000ft of elevation gain, from Prisoners Harbor to Scorpion Harbor on Santa Cruz Island. Channel Islands National Park. September 2011
Melissa Adylia Calasanz

Care and conditioning of the feet
Care and conditioning of the feet is an essential component in the care and prevention of injuries. My years as a dancer set the foundation for instilling in me the habit of effectively warming up and articulating my feet as part of my fitness routine. My years as a Fitness Professional working with runners has helped justify my view that dedicating a substantial amount of time to the care and conditioning of the feet is necessary for the care and prevention of injuries.

A dancer will spend a considerable amount of time, in the beginning of their barre routine/warm-up, doing slow and repetitive exercises such as plies, releves, and tendus. These exercises can be interpreted in the fitness world as exercises that require slow and controlled repetitive plantar flexion and extension. These exercises help warm up the intrinsic muscles of the feet while also utilizing extrinsic muscles for many of the movements.

During the barre routine/warm-up, the exercises will progress to more intricate and challenging movements such as dégagés, frappés, and échappés. These exercises begin to incorporate and rely on more of the extrinsic muscles of the feet and leg and aid in the preparation for more intense and ballistic movements that a dancer will endure throughout a ballet class or performance.

When I began working with runners, I was surprised by how terribly de-conditioned their feet were. Each injured runner I have worked with had little to no awareness of what their feet were doing at any given moment, and many of them complained about continually rolling or spraining ankles. I had taken it for granted that runners, who spent so much time of their feet, would take the time to care for and warm up their feet before hitting the road. Not one of the injured runners, who had come to me for the Runners Conditioning Workshops I teach, had ever done any exercises that focused mainly on their feet.

In an article titled Your Feet are Your Foundation which was published on the Sport Chalet Running and Fitness page of their community site, I wrote how “Our feet are as important to our physical well-being/functional fitness as a foundation is to a structure,” Which got a lot of runners talking about how they do and do not care for their feet. Many runners take their feet for granted. Most runners, if they experience any discomfort while running will purchase a new, expensive, and overly supportive shoe, and hope for the best. In the same article, I noted “A good contractor doesn’t fix the instability of a failing structure with some nice paint and a picket fence; the contractor will first address the foundation, check its integrity, and go from there.” No matter how much paint is used to cover up the problems of a failing structure, it will collapse sooner or later.

I require all of my clients to participate in our Personal Training and Runners Conditioning Sessions with bare feet. Many runners resist working with bare feet because they are of the mindset that they have to wear shoes for stability, and many had been relying on orthotics to alleviate pain from plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other issues of the feet, knees, and hips. It is important to work with bare feet as a way to prevent injuries. When feet are bare, one is not only afforded the opportunity to see their feet and toes, they are granted the luxury of heightened sensation. One can feel more connected to the ground and experience the different tactile sensations such as temperature, texture, stability. Heightened sensation and awareness are excellent ways to prevent injury when one is relying upon their feet to convey information in regards to the terrain they travel.

While participating in my last Ultra Marathon, it was pouring rain. Many runners were running with bare feet, I was running in Teva Sandals. The barefoot runners and other sandal wearers, and I were having a blast navigating the slippery, rocky, and very steep trails. Many of the runners that wore rugged trail shoes were having a difficult time making their way down without slipping every few yards. The conversations amongst the runners at the finish line were enlightening. Runners who had worn rugged shoes were overheard saying things like “I wish I would have taken off my shoes so I could have felt the trail better…” whereas I and the other sandaled and barefoot runners were heard saying things like “I am so glad I didn’t wear shoes today…”

Exercises designed to strengthen and stretch feet, articulate toes and integrate the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of their feet and legs are extremely helpful in caring for and conditioning feet in order to prevent injury. The exercises I use and teach to my clients are similar to the ones used for a ballet warm-ups, and are done in both parallel and turned out positions. Many of the exercises consist of slow pointing and flexing of the feet, and slow spreading and articulation of the toes, progressing to more intricate and dynamic exercises that require transfer of weight and forward motion, when appropriate. The exercises, when included in a runner’s warm up routine, help facilitate heightened proprioception, improved strength and mobility throughout the kinetic chain, and help with recovery from injuries along with avoiding further injury, all the while, warming their body up for a run.

The book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, has more runners embracing the idea of training with bare feet, not just in personal training sessions and warm ups, but getting outside and running with bare feet. The book discusses The Tarahumara Indians, who some consider to be the greatest distance runners in the world. They not only travel extreme distances of up to over a hundred miles at a time, over rugged terrain, they do their running in bare feet or in very crude handmade sandals. Many runners are not only embracing the idea of running with bare feet, thanks to this book, they are beginning to pay more attention to the care and conditioning of their feet.

The runners who have focused on strengthening their feet have discarded their overly supportive shoes for neutral, lightweight, or minimal running shoes. They continue to improve their performance in marathons, trail runs, and ultra marathons, and are continuing to run pain and injury free.

My frozen toes atop a pile of soaking wet and muddy clothes after running the Pacific Coast Trail Runs 18k in the pouring rain while wearing my favorite pair of Teva sandals and a pair of Asics running socks.
November 2011
-Melissa Adylia Calasanz
Written by:
Melissa Adylia Calasanz
Melissa Adylia Gutierrez
Saint Mary's LEAP100 PPA Class Kinesiology Challenge

PART 1: Warm-Ups Prior to Activity
PART 3: Cross Training
PART 4: Rest and Recovery (coming soon)

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