by Karli Taylor
When we walk or run, our body goes through a complex set of steps called the gait cycle. Like any cycle, your gait starts and ends at the same point- your feet.
A smooth gait cycle means that the forces from the ground are absorbed evenly across your feet each time you take a step. Whether you are running on grass, pavement, dirt or a track, your feet are the bridge between the ground and the rest of your body, so it’s critical that they are in the right condition to handle that stress properly.
Combined with your ankles, your feet absorb and transfer the forces associated with impacting the ground, and are vital for setting up the proper kinetic chain of muscles and joints moving up the body. Because the feet and ankles are so vital to our ability to run efficiently, it's important to take the time to stretch them.
Since the feet endure and transfer high impact forces, they are designed to be rigid and stable, particularly near the heel and mid-foot. The bones are tightly packed and naturally don’t have a lot of movement. This makes certain areas of the foot susceptible to becoming overly stiff, leading to painful stress points and in worst cases, stress fractures.
While your feet need to be stretched because they tend to be too stiff, your ankles need to be stretched to allow them to move through a very large range of motion. If your ankles become too stiff or rigid, they become prone to being injured by excessive motion. This is how ankle sprains occur.
Vajrasana or Thunderbolt Pose is one pose with multiple variations that can serve to stretch both the feet and ankles while also stretching the shins and quadriceps.
Begin kneeling on the floor with your hips and glutes lifted off of your legs. Bring your inner knees together so your inner thighs are touching. Un-tuck your toes and press the tops of your feet firmly and evenly along the floor before slowly coming to a seated position on your heels. Maintain good posture throughout your upper body by pulling your collar bone forward and dropping your shoulders away from your ears and try not to let your feet splay open or turn inward.
Though this pose looks very simple, if you have a tighter athletic body, it can be quite uncomfortable or even unattainable at first. You can place a folded blanket under your knees or ankles if you are feeling too much pressure in either of those places. If you feel uncomfortable tightness in your knees, fold one or more blankets and stack them between your calves and thighs.
Try this pose with your toes tucked under to lengthen the plantar muscles on the sole of the foot.
Rotate between both variations of this pose until you can sit in each one comfortably for at least a minute. Once you can kneel comfortably you can increase the stretch by leaning back and placing your hands on the floor.
To limit discomfort, make sure your feet are warmed up before getting into these poses. You may want to roll the bottoms of your feet on a tennis ball and rotate your ankles in both directions a few times before stretching them. Taking care of your foundation will help you put your best foot forward!
Karli Taylor: Yoga For Runners Archive
Balance For Runners: Tree Pose or Vrksasana
Strengthening Your Back: Baddha Hasta Uttanasana, or Ragdoll
Combating Runner’s Butt - Ardha Matsyendra
Exercises to Help in Stability - Ananda Balasana
Stretching Hip Flexors – Anjaneyasana & Setu Bandha Sarvangasana