And you need to go back to basics to heal your aching feet.
It was the end of yet another running week. I was somewhere in the middle of my half-marathon training cycle feeling strong and powerful except for one part of my body — my feet.
Despite having consistently worn my favorite running shoes out there — Nike Zoom Structure, I started getting pain in my arch and heel. For some reason, the supportive cushioning I relied on so much in my runs had suddenly failed me.
My feet felt broken, which got me thinking that it might not be the running shoes that help us prevent lower body injuries after all.
Since the rise of the big running footwear brands, we’ve been told that we need a proper pair of running shoes to be able to run injury-free.
There are ones that are supposed to correct pronation and those that help with supination. And then there are running shoes that are seemingly made for a neutral foot strike.
Above all that, there is no way you can really know what kind of support your feet need unless you go through a gait analysis with a professional. And if you eventually end up wearing the wrong kind of pair, you might have just waisted money and become more injury-prone.
That’s a lot of pressure on probably some of the most expensive shoes in your closet. Yet, they are far from living up to their claims.
In a late 90s study, experts found out that well-cushioned athletic shoes account for 123 per cent greater injury risk than their more neutral counterparts.
Likewise, Arthur Lydiard, a legend among long-distance running coaches, believed that the more we support our feet, the weaker they get. Only by making our feet muscles work and getting them out of the “cast” (aka running/ training barefoot) can we avoid all the troubles.
No wonder that my trusted allies (=supportive running shoes) that should’ve prevented me from getting plantar fasciitis actually caused that. Ironic, right?
The truth is the majority of running shoes out there are primarily made to look good rather than make our feet feel good and be healthy. Their super cushy rubber often tricks us into believing that we’re running on air and all is fine when in reality, they are just hiding the real problem — weak feet.
Once the marshmallow-like cushioning is gone, we will more likely than not start feeling discomfort in our feet, ankles, calves, or knees and alter our gait.
In fact, stretching and doing butt and leg exercises on a regular basis are the only proven methods to prevent plantar fasciitis and other foot pain. This also includes weekly barefoot running, which makes us naturally land on midfoot and thus avoid unnecessary strain on our heels.
No shoe will ever strengthen our foot muscles the way barefoot exercises do. And its provided stability, support, and cushioning might only make our feet unprepared for the “life outside the cast”.
There are a few exceptions, though. If you overpronate, your feet may not be able to sustain a serious workload unless they are supported with orthotics. In cases like this, a consultation with a health professional is vitally necessary.
Nature has given us everything we need to ensure that our feet are healthy, injury-free, and strong enough to bear the stress of running. If our ancestors could go for miles without their feet encapsulated in a 150$ worth of athletic footwear, so can we.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go barefoot and throw out your Nikes, Asics, or whatever running shoes you have. But opting for more minimalist shoes that promote a natural feel and train your feet muscles at the same time might be the first step towards injury-free running.