Dr. Ryan Green is managing partner at Varsity Sports Mandeville in Mandeville, Louisiana. He received his athletic training certification in 1997 and received his PhD in Kinesiology from Louisiana State University in 2006. After graduating from LSU and then teaching in the athletic training program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Dr. Green went back to Louisiana to open and manage the second location of Varsity Sports. Dr. Green’s sports medicine/biomechanics experiences include the United States Olympic Committee’s Sports Medicine Program, LSU Athletics, as well as coaching and consulting with sports medicine professionals and athletes from around the region. He is an avid runner having completed eight marathons, an ultramarathon, and numerous other road races. He lives and runs with his wife, Jill, and two children, Emma and Andrew in Covington, Louisiana.
Question: I have been away from running for over a decade due to a variety of lingering injuries, such as recurring knee pain whenever i ran over 13 miles. I imagine i was a heel-striker back in the day considering the shoes I often wore. I want to get back to running, so does it make sense to literally start off on the right foot by going with a minimalist shoe, or a thickly cushioned one like the Hoka?
Answer: It makes sense to start from ground zero with a minimalist shoe if that is what you want your end result to be. But you will likely need to modify some other variables to accommodate for this. Your training volume, your intensity, your complimentary exercises, and maybe even your surface you run will likely need to examined closer to ease yourself into minimalist shoe wearing as your body is going to need to adapt into a more natural movement pattern. Let’s expand on each variable a bit.
If your normal weekly mileage is ten miles a week, you will need to reduce that quantity so that your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other body tissue will get used to the more natural stress being placed upon it. The body is used to taking on stress and will respond well to it, but that stress, including increasing mileage, needs to be introduced in gradual amounts.
The intensity the work is being done will need to be low as well. Running hard increases the amount of stress hormones the body releases and these hormones can be damaging to the body tissue. So lowering the speed at which you run, and then gradually increasing it as the body adapts, is an appropriate way to allow for this adaptation.
Are you ready to go minimal? Our friends Dr. Mark and Jay Dicharry did a wonderful video addressing complimentary exercises to prep the body for a more minimalist running shoe platform. And in my opinion, any runner could benefit from this information. The high points: single leg stability, toe yoga, Achilles flexibility and elasticity, and posture. See the video for their presentation.
The surface you run on can provide incredible feedback to your body for it’s proper, safe movement. Most folks want to run on a softer surface when they are running in less shoe – a grassy patch, a padded outdoor track, or even a bouncy mat like on a gymnastics floor. And while those surfaces seem like the way to go when you are moving in less or even no shoes, the best surface you can run on is a firm platform like a smooth asphalt street or a stretch of cement. A body is born with gross movement patterns like a running motion. But better micro adjustments can be made when the body is moving over a firm surface and can quickly acquire sensory feedback for safe movements.
Question: Do you stretch before running? Should I? I have a bet with my regular running partner who swears by stretching for 10-15 minutes every time we go for a run together. He even stretches if we have to stop at a red light!
Answer: I don’t stretch before running. I do some dynamic warm-up exercises, but don’t do a stretching routine. Here are some dynamic warm-up exercises that we put together for Running Times magazine (http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/the-lunge-balance-sequence).
I think stretching works for some people and not for others. That may sound vague, but here is why. If you have a restriction in your range of motion, then stretch to increase that range of motion. In order to get true length in tissue, you have to hold the stretch 3-5 minutes, four to five days per week, for 10-12 weeks. If you have adequate range of motion for your activity, then why do you need to stretch? Why does a runner need to be as flexible as a ballet dancer? Yes, they both have to be flexible to a degree, but a runner needs to be more elastic and explosive than graceful and fluid like a dancer. Ever hear a running coach tell their athlete, “Stretch and be long”. Probably not. Because that will likely not improve that athlete’s ability to get that pop off the ground that can make them a more effective runner. But it may help them hold the proper pose longer. If you are to stretch, then stretch after the run when the tissue is adequately warmed up. And you are stretching to gain tissue length and not necessarily to improve the workout for that day.
Question: I have very wide feet. What are some good running shoe options? And how much space should there be in the toebox? Is there, well, a rule of thumb to let one know?
Answer: There is no one perfect shoe for wide feet or any feet for that matter. First off, many brands do have widths in their selection of shoes. Not in all styles, but in many styles. You just have to search a bit. Secondly, be sure that the width of your shoe accommodates for your whole foot. You have a foot size and not a shoe size. So it may take some experimentation with each shoe brand you try to find just the right width for your foot. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb for spacing in a shoe toebox is exactly that…a thumb. Everyone’s thumb is a different width, but usually if you can accommodate at least a thumb nail’s distance between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe you are doing ok. Measuring off the end of the longest toe is vitally important as sometimes the longest toe may be your second toe (Morton’s Toe) and not just the great toe. And taking the insole out of your shoe, placing it on the ground, and then stepping on it is a good way to see if your foot would hang over the edge and the shoe would be too narrow for your foot. Finally, I find a flatter shoe tends to not crowd the toebox. When your heel is pitched upward then there is usually more pressure forward on the foot and not spread evenly throughout the whole foot.