Tackle hidden form flaws

Clue: Callus skin on one foot is different from the other.

In running, we want our body to be symmetrical. Yet sometimes we have phenomena on one side of the body and not the other, such as a callus on our right big toe but not on the left.

‘This is normal,‘ says University of Illinois distance coach Jeremy Rasmussen. ‘Look at calf flexion: is one more flexible than the other? And what’s your big toe extension like on both sides?’

Fix it

1. Gauge calf flexion

Stand barefoot, facing a wall with your hips square and the big toe and knee of one leg touching a wall. Move that foot back an inch, then lean forward to touch the wall with your knee while keeping your heel on the ground.

Continue to move back inch at a time until you can’t touch the wall with your knee without your heel lifting off the ground. Then do this on the other side. If you’re further from the wall on one side than the other, your calf flexion is asymmetric and needs attention.

To improve your tighter calf, ‘roll a tennis ball along the muscle to loosen it’, says Rasmussen.

2. Measure big toe extension

Put yourself in full calf flexion (toes pointing towards your shin). Have someone pull up on your big toe from side to side. If your two big toes have a different range of motion in this position, you may need to address the difference, says Rasmussen.

‘Roll a golf ball along the sole of the foot with reduced toe motion,’ advises Rasmussen.

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Clue: Outsole wear on one shoe is greater than it is on the other.

Excessive outsole wear on one shoe may be caused by a discrepancy in your leg length, running on cambered surfaces or excessive hip rotation, says Amol Saxena, a podiatrist at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic in California.

Fix it

If you often run on a cambered road, try running on a more level surface or occasionally switching sides of the pavement while running.

Generally, if one leg is more than a quarter of an inch longer than the other, you’ll want a slight lift to correct the difference, according to Saxena. On leg differences less than a quarter of an inch, physical therapy and strengthening exercises often correct the issue.

Sometimes people don’t have differences in their leg length, but their body acts as if they do. This is called ‘functional short leg’, and back issues could be at the root of it. ‘If you have a pinched nerve in your back, you’ll have some weakness in the muscles that nerve supplies, so a leg might drop, slap or work unevenly,’ says Saxena. In this situation, you should go to see a back specialist who can address the issue.

Another possible cause of this quirk is lumbopelvic dysfunction, which is a forward/backward or side-to-side rotation in your hip or pelvis. A physiotherapist or chiropractor can often show you exercises to rotate your hip or pelvis back into place.

Picture credt: Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

Clue: The horizon appears to bob up and down.

If the skyline seems to move up and down while you run, it may be a sign that you overstride and therefore have too much vertical motion. When you overstride, you spend more time on the ground than necessary, increasing your risk of knee injuries, says physio Robert Wayner.

Fix it

To help eliminate the moving-horizon sensation, Wayner recommends that you quicken your cadence to 170-180 steps per minute.

Increasing your cadence eliminates overstriding because it makes your foot land underneath you or only just ahead of you, rather than way out in front of you.

A shorter stride and faster cadence will also decrease the time your feet are on the ground and therefore increase your overall speed. ‘When your foot makes contact with the ground, if you think about releasing that foot as quickly as you can, and even say the words “touch, lift, touch, lift” while you run, this can help to eliminate some of the bobbing,’ adds Scott.

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Clue: Mud or kick marks on your calves.

Post-run mud smudges on your calves usually mean more than  extra scrubbing in the shower.

‘Typically, it’s because of weak glute muscles, which help stabilise the foot in the stance phase,’ says six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. ‘The second factor is poor hip extension.’

What this means is that when your leg is in the push-off phase, your hips don’t stay square; instead, they twist a little to allow you to seemingly enhance your push-off. In reality, says Scott, you end up losing power.

Scott refers to the navel as the runner’s eyeball; the goal is for it to always look straight ahead. If you’re hitting your other leg, your navel is probably swinging left and right like a windscreen wiper, causing the hips to open up too much to the side on push-off.

When this happens, your foot comes through on the swing phase and hits the side of the opposite leg.

Fix it

1. Stretch cord hip extension

Place a stretch cord around your right ankle and anchor the other end to something stable in front of you. Stand on a block with your standing (left) leg knee slightly bent and the stretch-cord leg swinging freely.

Swing it back into hip extension and then return to the start position. Do 3x12-15 reps on each leg, every other day. ‘The main fatigue should be felt in the support leg glutes,’ says Scott.

‘Maintaining the support leg in the perfect “stance” running position is key to this exercise.’

2. Stretch cord hip abduction

The second part of this two-in-one deal moves you quickly into hip abduction. Turn 90 degrees right so you are left-
side-on to the cord anchor. Step over the cord so that it passes freely behind the achilles tendon of your standing (left) leg.

Then move your legs apart and  swing the stretch-cord leg out. Do 3x12-15 reps on each leg, every other day.

‘It’s a fantastic exercise for your glutes with the load on your support leg,’ says Scott.