The first part of this blog we discussed correcting pronation of the foot by training the upper leg, primarily the glutes. Although the largest gains will come from the exercises we discussed in part 1, there are still a few remaining tricks that involve the lower leg.
Reduce Injuries by Correcting Pronation
Remember, pronation isn’t necessarily your enemy. Over-pronation is only an issue if it leads to injuries or pain. So while it’s not necessary for you to try and reduce pronation unless you have problems. There is no harm in using these methods to strengthen your running gait and help prevent injuries.
Remember, a strong, flexible runner is far less likely to get injured and you may even find some performance benefits from developing a more stable running gait.
Strength, Flexibility and muscle balance are the three keys to avoiding injury. This also applies to correcting pronation. Whilst we are all born with pronation, to varying degrees, some of our biomechanics are related to training and lifestyle. So whilst we cannot change what we are born with, we can improve the portion of our biomechanics caused by the latter.
Negative lifestyle and training factors that can contribute to pronation:
- Long periods of time seated (see part one of this blog)
- Inactive daily routine (excluding exercise)
- Being Overweight
- Wearing high-heeled shoes regularly
- Sports or activities that cause lower leg muscle imbalances (e.g footballers who are very one leg dominent)
- Lack of variety in your training (i.e running is your only exercise)
- Not stretching regularly
If you sound like any of the above, there is progress to be made!
Supercharge your Supinators
The Tibialis Posterior is the main supinator of the foot. Along with the Tibialis Anterior and Extensor Hallucis Longus they form the supinators of the foot (mainly by inverting the sub-talar joint). Considering supination is the opposite movement to pronation, it’s easy to see how activating and strengthening these muscles will help with correcting pronation.
Your supinatory muscles are used every time you walk. So they are pretty tough, however they are designed for frequent light use. Therefore we need to be careful how we train them, otherwise they will injure easily. If you intend on increasing the strength of your supinators, it’s best done slowly and carefully.
How do I strengthen my supinators?
The easiest and most simple method is to introduce barefoot running into your program, but this must be done with caution. If you haven’t been barefoot running regularly, you can easily injure yourself, as your body won’t be conditioned to the new stimulus.
Start with a minimal shoe (rather than a complete barefoot approach). Introducing minimal/barefoot by running for a total weekly distance of 5-10% of your normal (non-barefoot) weekly training distance. Make sure you split this 5-10% into several runs, rather than one long barefoot run. You may feel this is doing nothing to start with, that’s normal, it just means you’re not over-training. If you feel you need to increase intensity, then increase the pace, rather than exceeding the 10%.
After a month of regular minimal shoe training, then you can either increase the percentage slowly each week, or move from a minimal shoe to a barefoot shoe. Again slow steady progress is crucial, if you feel any pain when running then rest and reduce the training load. Some muscular aching is normal, just as if you started a new gym program. If the aching interferes with your normal training, then you are overdoing it!
Despite being an excellent fat burning and cardio exercise. Skipping directly works the Tibialis posterior muscle (the main supinator). It also focuses on the calves, which we’ll discuss the importance of in a moment.
Start with a good quality speed rope and regular skipping, for 5-10 minutes a day. Then progress onto double-unders (the rope goes twice under in one jump), which you will soon realise are a fantastic cross-training exercise for runners anyway.
Why not use skipping as part of your running warm-up to save time?
Strengthening the calves actually helps to stabilise the rear-foot, which will in-turn help with correcting pronation. Furthermore when you perform calf raises, you’ll also be working on the supinators of the foot.
To perform a good quality calf raise, you need to be standing on a step. With your forefoot on the step and your heels able to drop below the step, lift up onto your tip toes and then lower. Allow your heels to drop below the level of the step.
Repeat in sets of 10-20 reps. To progress this exercise add weight. You could wear a weight vest, or simply hold some weight. Most gyms also have calf raise machines, which allow you to lift much heavier weights safely.
Resistance band Inversion exercise
This is a very specific exercise, and generally only used for rehabilitation of the supinator muscles. However if you are serious about strengthening your supinators, then it will give you an edge.
Increasing the strength of your supinators whilst simultaneously working to reactivate your glutes, is the best overall approach in reducing pronation.
There are many other niche exercises you’ll probably hear about online, but they often yield very little results for the time they take. Exercises such as increasing the strength of the muscles in the foot, or even training the arch, often take more time than they are worth (unless used for rehab).
Using exercise to reduce pronation is certainly a worthy cause, not only will it make you stronger and more resilient, but you may also improve your overall running performance.
Just bear in mind, that everyone is different and there are no guarantees of success. We often see customers whose biomechanics make running very difficult. In this case, even a thorough anti-pronation training program, may yield little success.
Finally, no matter how hard you work on the discussed exercises, there is always a need to have your biomechanics regularly analysed. Making sure you are running in shoes that are the most appropriate for your running gait, should always be your first priority. This also applies to anyone serious about these exercises, you may find that if you’re successful, your running shoes are now too corrective and uncomfortable for you!