Runners forget to check this one thing, but it can save you so much grief!
Once upon a time, we didn’t have the luxury of runners. While they are a huge support to training in this modern age, there are several drawbacks that very few people realize. Oftentimes, a shoe is built too robust, preventing the muscles and tissues around the foot to be properly loaded. Over time, solely running in great footwear can cause a significant reduction in stability and strength in these areas.
If you’re experiencing calf pain, the last place you’re probably thinking of looking is the shoes that are supposed to be protecting you. Well, today it’s time to change that mindset and realize that your footwear, as expensive or high-quality as it may be, can hurt your training if you’re not intentional about picking the right fit.
Two ways that running shoes can hurt you.
First off, think about going to see a gait specialist if you’re unsure where to start with selecting runners. Finding the right shoe for you is one of the most important aspects of your training, so take the time to ensure your needs are being met. If you’ve had a history of foot/calf pain, it may also be an idea to seek out a podiatrist to determine if running is the right sport for you. Oftentimes, a reduction in volume will benefit you greatly.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some practical tips for building a better relationship with your footwear!
1) Watch out for the heel-to-toe drop.
The heel-to-toe drop is exactly what it sounds like. If you look at the side of your runners, you’ll notice that the ‘platform’ for the heel is typically higher than where the toes sit. A normal drop is around 10–12 mm but can be virtually flat depending on the type of runners you’re working with. Again, if you go see a specialist, they’ll let you know exactly what type of drop you have, and what one would suit you best.
The problems begin to arise when you transition from a high drop to a low one. If you aren’t doing any strengthening of the calves, you’ll be introducing a whole new range of motion that they have to work through. This angle just so happens to be the hardest one for the calves to contract through due to the position of the muscle fibers. Over time, this can really cause pain and irritation because they aren’t ready to take your current volume with this added range.
Once you’ve found a heel-to-toe drop that feels comfortable, try to not move too far away from it. This will add a level of consistency to your training that can help to prevent injuries and soreness. It should also be mentioned, however, that everyone has the capacity to have full calf functionality. If you want to improve this area, try doing weekly activities in bare feet (such as walking, strength training, etc…) and start performing calf raises and heel-to-toe walks.
2) Take note of the stability of your shoes.
Just like with point #1, if you transition too quickly between a robust shoe and one with low stability, you’re going to run into problems. The soleus muscle (deep to the larger gastroc) plays a huge role in the stability of the foot/ankle during running. If you suddenly switch your footwear, your soleus muscle can overwork leading to potential irritation and straining.
Additionally, if you’re ankles joints are also untrained, you may be at a higher risk of receiving a minor ankle sprain if you’re unused to the lower support that your new shoes give you. The level of stability required for running is going to depend on your specific anatomy and event, so please seek out someone who can help you find the right fit. This little time investment will save you so many complications down the road!
Bonus tips for maintaining healthy feet and calves:
- If you’re in severe pain, you must reduce your running volume in addition to altering footwear. If you’re simply wanting to change your shoe type regardless of pain outcomes, ensure you also drop your volume and ramp up slowly to prevent future complications.
- Consider strengthening the calves and ankle joints to better withstand the stresses of running. Just remember to wait to start strength training until after your pain has decreased considerably.
- Play around with the surfaces you’re running on! Maybe it’s time to transition from the roads to the chip trails every once in a while.
While running shoes were a fantastic invention, we must realize that with the plush and comfort of new footwear comes several drawbacks. To avoid irritating your calves and ankles, ensure you find a runner that’s properly built for your anatomy and running habits. Furthermore, be wary of transitioning between shoe types too quickly as your body can quickly start to complain. If you are going to make the jump, be wise and alter your training volume accordingly.
Fortunately, there is a way to simplify this whole dilemma. If you want to avoid all of these complications, start strength training your calves and ankles. This process takes just a few minutes per week but can make a world of a difference for your long-term health and safety as a runner.
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