How standing on your tiptoes can make you a stronger runner

how tiptoeing makes you a better runner

Physio Mark Buckingham talks tiptoes:

In my experience, most injury and performance issues are down to your running motion. Just like the mechanics of a golf swing, if you understand it, you  can work to make yourself a more efficient runner – and by doing so, improve your speed and endurance, and reduce your injury risk. In this series, I’ll try to help you understand and improve your biomechanics using a variety of simple tests and drills. This month, I’m going to focus on using tiptoe (or calf) raises to assess running motion. They test the strength of the calf and foot-stabilising muscles – both of which are important for an efficient running gait and greater resistance to injury.

Related: How to injury-proof your body - calves and shins

The move: Single-leg tiptoe rises

Stand in shorts in front of a mirror that shows your reflection from at least your waist down, or get someone to use their smartphone to video you from in front and behind. Stand on one leg and rise onto your tiptoes while barefoot. Do not hold anything for balance. These tiptoe rises should be smooth, controlled and powerful through the whole set. Repeat as many times as you can and count how many you can do before you fatigue. Do the test on each leg to work out which, if either, is weaker. Look out for the following form cues as you perform the movement.

Good-form cues:

1. The heel should lift fully off the floor to tiptoe – not partway.

2.You should be able to do at least 20, preferably 25, and ideally with 20kg of weight, either in a backpack or holding a 10kg dumbbell in each hand.

3.Your arch should become high and tight when you are at full tiptoe extension. Think ballerina.

Problem: You can’t rise fully onto your tiptoe

how tiptoeing can make you a better runner

Fix: On full tiptoe, you should be high on your toes, ankle locked out. If you cannot rise fully onto your toes, you have a weakness in the calf. A weak calf means potential stress and injury in the Achilles tendon and structures such as the plantar fascia and the knee. You will also have an inefficient and weak push-off phase, which means less speed. Also, when a muscle is working at its limits, even with an easy stride, it will fatigue more quickly, meaning overloading and loss of speed in other areas.

Related: Running injuries - when to run, when to stop 

Problem: You can’t do 25 body-weight tiptoe rises

how standing on tiptoes makes you a better runner

This is down to a very weak calf. In many patients with recurring Achilles and other foot injuries, calf weakness like this is at the core of the issue.

Fix: Strengthen your calves

Exercise 1 - Rise onto tiptoes on both feet, then shift your weight to the weaker foot/calf and hold the tiptoe position for 10 seconds at least eight times. Do this several times a day for a week and then retest to see if you can lift to full tiptoes on one foot. If you can’t, keep working. The initial aim is three sets of 25 reps. Build from there.

Exercise 2 - Once you can do three good sets of 25 single-leg tiptoe raises, add weight, eg load a backpack with weights. The aim is to be able to do 3 x 25 single-leg tiptoe raises on your weak leg with a 20kg weight.

Problem: The arch isn’t high and tight at full tiptoe

how tiptoeing makes you a better runner

Poor arch formation indicates a weak tibialis posterior – the key stabilising muscle of the lower leg.

Fix: Strengthen your foot stabilisers

Tie an exercise band around the knee of your weak leg and attach it to an anchor point across and slightly in front of your body. Stand on your weak leg. The band pulls your knee in. Resist this pull and keep your knee over the middle of the foot while you work on your tiptoe raises. This works the tibialis posterior.