Becoming a Supple Leopard

Being an endurance athlete does not mean that’s all we do. We also do things like strength train, foam roll and yoga. These practices outside of running, biking or swimming help to become a better athlete by improving upon the movements that are necessary to train. 3 out of 4 runners get injured at least once each year. I have always been the athlete that trains through it hoping the pain wil go away. I have been lucky that I can switch to the elliptical for a couple days and the pain subsides enough to train again. Not the greatest strategy. My New Years Resolution this year is to work on my mobility, form and avoid injury with “prehab”. If injury does strike, I am resolving to take care of it under the long term approach: I want to run forever, I need to take care of my bones and joints so that my body can always keep up with me.

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Yesterday I sat in Barnes and Nobel after work. I read the book called “Ready To Run” by Kelly Starrett and TJ Murphy. Afterwards I proceeded to read some of his other book “Becoming a Supple Leopard”. Starrett comes from a kayaking and water sport background and Murphy from an triathlon endurance history. Murphy was the chronically injured triathlete. He would have a good few months of training all the time, being able to put in the miles inside of the sport, but limping around outside of it. “It stops hurting when I run.” was a common utterance. He came to Starrett after a four mile tempo run finally cracked his knees. Murphy was ready to do the mobility work outside of sport to make him better inside.

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Starrett is a physical therapist, exercise physiologist and crossfit enthusiast. I was skeptical at first because I am not a crossfitter and have no intention of doing that. Don’t get me wrong, those people are badass, but it’s not my juice to drink. Starrett describes his views on the human body based on years of analyzing the gait of athletes of all types. He says that most people walk with their feet angled out and hips limited in their movement. The ankles also usually turn in and people walk bow-legged.

I immediately looked at how my feet were placed on the floor (I was sitting) and he was right, my feet were angled out at about 45 degrees.

He gives evidence for wearing zero drop shoes, practicing opening up the hips and doing mobility exercises for the feet, ankles, hips and shoulders. After reading the feet section, I was hooked.

I recently switched to zero drop shoes and like the way my feet feel, stronger and stable. I practiced the way he says we should stand, with feet pointed forward, core engaged, butt flexed and spine straight. I could feel a difference immediately, not good or bad, just different from the way I usually stand.

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That night, I practiced squatting to open up my hips. Today on my run, I engaged my core and tried to run more upright. I am not sure if I ran with my feet straight, but I tried to run placing a more emphasis on my big toe and the front inside foot.

What does all this mean? My hips are tight causing my knees and ankles to compensate, which has turned my ankles in and feet outward. I think this is why I get such bad calluses on the outsides of my feet and why I have gotten foot pain in the past. I simple run wrong, tight and rely on too much cushioning.

This year, I plan to make my feet strong, my hips looser and avoid injury by doing prehab exercises recommended by Starrett and others like him. I plan to follow videos on his Mobility WOD

website and also from the book. This will not replace my training, but will supplement the miles. I am going to switch to flat (zero drop) shoes for both running and life (heels will stay but only on occasion, I am a woman after all!) I plan to schedule “barefoot days” where I go completely barefoot or wear flat shoes. If I feel so inclined, I might be some vibrams πŸ™‚

Have you read Starrett’s book?

What mobility work do you do?

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