It’s crazy to think about the abuse your feet take in triathlon training, especially when it comes to running. Think about it: your calves push to lift your body roughly 1,500 times per mile! Not to mention that you’re landing on your foot with 2-3 times your body weight each and every impact.
Although the lower leg acts like a simple lever, it takes a huge responsibility in foot-strike landing, propelling your body forward, and balance and stability. So naturally strengthening the lower leg with help make you a more efficient runner.
But strengthening your lower leg is also important for injury prevention! And if you’re like me, you’re not too keen on painful injuries like pulled calf muscles, shinsplints, achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, and possible even knee and lower back problems.
I’m not just talking about calf muscles for triathlon strength training – the muscles that are in your feet and ankles are important too.
So let’s talk about how to do it…
Honestly, my plan for lower leg strength is a little bit random…but that keeps it fun. Even thought I don’t have a regular set routine, I enjoy throwing in some variety into the mix spontaneously.
Here’s a list of cool moves to help you be creative with your lower leg strength training… just make sure it happens.
Oh, and one more thing… The cool thing about lower leg strength training is that it doesn’t take much to start noticing improvements! Try some of these strength training moves once or twice a week and you’ll notice better runs before you know it.
Calf Raises / Calf Killers: Ok, everyone knows calves raises, but come on now! You’ve moved beyond that long ago and have graduated to single-leg calf raises. Do these on stairs, a curb, or even the ground. It’s important to get full range of motion so something to step up on is best. Combo them together by switching back and forth to each leg with no rest. Come on now!
Single Leg Hops / Jumprope: This helps you to build that springy, light-on-your-feet feeling, which is great for runners. With or without a jump rope, bounce on one foot at a time and alternate back and forth when one leg muscle starts burning. Be sure to keep count so you encourage muscle balance and don’t become lopsided. Toss this into the mix and soon you’ll run like a gazelle and pounce like a cat!
Stair Hops: If your up for a new challenge, throw some stair hops in right smack dab in the middle of a run. Not only will you build the strength to pounce like a tiger, you’ll blast the cardio on these. I found a small stair case that’s on my running route. Sorry but now you won’t be able to pass up another set of stairs without hopping up and down a couple times.
For an added challenge, try doing them one leg at a time!
Stability: Stability stuff is great to really hit those different angles which are important to build solid stabilizing muscles in your feet and ankles. But usually you need some equipment such as a disc or BOSU ball. BOSU does not recommend turning this piece upside down, but everyone is doing it. Just be careful and use something to hold onto.
Barefoot Running: Go to the grass and get naked! Let your feet be free spirited and go streaking accross the field every once in a while! In Born to Run there was a section in the book about how a famous running coach had his athletes run barefoot once a week because he thought it helped to build the muscles in the feet better than being supported by cushioned shoes.
Stretching and Massage: Last is, don’t forget to stretch your calves, ankles, and feet. Below are two of my favorite foot and ankle stretches. Plus, you can also use tools such as rollers and massage balls to help loosen them up after putting in the tough milage. I’m using this spiky roller and ball along with my marathon training now. It hurts so good!
And one more thing, I know the ladies will love me for this, but Jess tells me that a pedicure does wonders for her aching feet. Now it’s easier to justify a weekly trip to the nail salon. I can hear it now, “But Trainer Davey told me to…”
Maintaining strong lower leg muscles with these exercises pays off will reap lots of benefits, the best being improving your running form and efficiency – essentially, you’ll be able to run faster, longer, and feel better.
Well, there’s another awesome reason to strengthen your feet and ankles. You’ll actually protect yourself again the painful and time-consuming injuries that are always trying to sneak their way in with just a little bit of proactive prevention.
Let this sink in: your feet take a ton of abuse in triathlon training! Take care of them with stretching and rolling and they will take care of you with endless miles of high performance and pain-free running.