When the human foot rolls excessively inward toward the arch, we call it Over-pronation, and there are countless online resources to help correct it. But what about Over-pronation's opposite but equally problematic cousin, Over-supination?
Photography & Video: Ben Murphy
Over-supination is a weird one. Well, they're both weird—you're supposed to roll toward the center of your foot with each step. But over-supination—landing on the outer edge of the foot—is rarer than over-pronation, and since the author of this department 'suffers' from it (and I put quotes around 'suffers' because so far it hasn't affected my training), in this issue's Highway to Health, we're going to check out some exercise to correct it. First, though, what causes over-supination?
In many cases, excessive supination (and pronation) is hereditary. One of your parents, or one of your parent's parents, or some distant, mutant relative dangling from your family tree like a Christmas ornament made from dog shit and toothpicks introduced this structural issue to your gene pool, and now you have sore ankles. How dreadful. Still, it could be a lot worse: Instead of over-supinating feet, you could have one of those twins that lives inside your belly and doesn't make itself known until you start getting stomach aches at age fifty and the doctors perform surgery to remove a blob of flesh with teeth and coarse black hair like a Mongol warrior. Thank god you only inherited slightly stupid feet.
In those cases where over-supination isn't ancestral, the cause can often be found in poor posture, arthritis, tendinopathy, obesity, or nerve damage, and if you've spent an abnormal amount of time on your feet—as in the case of waitstaff and cappuccino bus drivers—the source might lie there. Poor foot form can also be caused by muscle tightness in the legs pulling the foot out of register. At any rate, you're an over-supinating runner, and that can create a lot of problems from the feet up. If you're not sure if you're over-supinator, check your clogs. If the sole is worn down mostly on the outer edge of the shoe, you're supinating. Worth noting that if you had to check your shoes, you're probably not experiencing any pain or rolling your ankles every five minutes. In which case, I say leave it alone. But for those of you who are experiencing discomfort—it's time to do some strengthening exercises.
*Check with your GP or podiatrist before doing any of this stuff. I'm writing this in my underpants—what do I know?
Still, it could be a lot worse: Instead of over-supinating feet, you could have one of those twins that lives inside your belly and doesn't make itself known until you start getting stomach aches at age fifty...
Picking Up Marbles
The foot and ankle comprise 28 different bones, 33 joints, 112 ligaments, and somewhere near 30 muscles depending on how many toes you have. As you'd expect, all these muscles are activated when you run, but that doesn't mean they all get an equal workout. Balance is key. Do a little test now. Put your bare feet flat on the floor and try to lift your big toe while the other toes remain on the floor. Now, attempt to raise all the smaller toes but keep the big one on the floor. Were you able to do it? If your answer was 'No, not really,' it's time to start picking up marbles.
We mentioned picking up marbles in issue #44. It's an excellent strengthening exercise for the feet, and it's actually kinda fun. Put a towel on the floor, scatter 30-50 marbles on the towel, and take a seat. Now, start picking them up individually and dropping them in a bucket with one of your feet. When they're all done, empty them out again and get started with the other foot. This is a terrific workout, and it is fun, right? It's not a weekend at Six Flags Fiesta Texas with Chris Farley, but it doesn't suck as bad as most strengthening exercises.
Lateral Band Walking
Exercises that strengthen the hips and glutes will help pull the foot closer to a neutral position. It's just kinetic chain stuff, baby. Start in a standing position, place a tension band around your legs just above the knee (not on the knee), step your feet hip-width apart, and come down into about half squat like you're almost about sit in a chair but you've just remembered that you might've left the iron on... Push your hips back, lift your chest, and start stepping to the side with your right foot and following with the left so the feet are back together. Five steps one way, five steps the other, back and forth. Be careful not to come out of that semi-squat position while you do this crab walk, and feel free to head down to the shops to get milk or whatever, but just make sure you do equal work on each leg.
The Butterfly Stretch loosens up the muscles on the inner thigh. These muscles (the gracilis, obturator externus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, thisoneis madeupus, and adductor magnus) rarely get a look-in for most runners during a static stretch session; mainly because it's a bit of a bitch to get to them. But, again, the body's kinetic chain dictates that tightness in one area can drag other parts of the body out of its natural range. So, with that mind, sit down on the floor, bring the soles of your feet together, straight spine, chest out, shoulders back, and gently lean forward while holding your feet. If you don't feel anything during this stretch, you're probably on heroin. For added agony, you can press down on your legs with your elbows. Be super careful doing this stretch. You'll know pretty quickly if you're forcing it too much.
Single Leg Balance
Stand on one leg like a flamingo—the end. Just stand on one leg, lift the other to hip height with your knee bent, and focus on maintaining your balance without letting that standing foot roll out toward its outer edge. Hold for 45 to 60 seconds and then swap legs. If you struggle to balance, you can stand next to a table for support, but you'll benefit from having nothing to lean on. If you can do three to five sets every day, you'll strengthen those foot and ankle muscles that hold your feet in a neutral position. Close your eyes for extra points.