If you’re someone who takes their fitness seriously, then you’ll be familiar with the ancient proverb “Never skip leg day”. Although this is usually intended as a joke about how difficult it can be to add mass to the legs, it also highlights how a lot of people distribute their efforts unequally across the different muscle groups. Whether the goal is to increase strength or simply tone up their vanity muscles, it is quite common for people to focus their attention on the muscles they think will make the biggest difference.
This is where leg day is often left behind, as to some people, having strong legs just simply isn’t as important or beneficial as having strong arms, for example. But even if you are the kind of person who puts in the time and effort to exercise their legs, research suggests there is a good chance you are not getting the all-round workout you may think you are.
When exercising the legs, there are a few main muscles that people tend to focus on. The quadricep muscles help bend the hips, as well as straighten and stabilise the knees. The hamstrings are essentially the opposite, straightening the hips and bending the knees, while the calf muscles help us extend our legs and lift our feet. Several other muscles around the hips and glutes are also commonly exercised to improve running form and stability.
Exercising all of these muscles is important in establishing a well-rounded foundation of fitness. But considering we are discussing how to exercise the legs in the context of running, there is one area that is noticeably absent from the conversation: the feet.
Foot Core Muscles
Despite the fact that they are practically the symbol of running, few people realise that they need to actively focus on their feet in the same way they would any other part of the body. Despite the fact that there are over 100 muscles in each foot, we don’t tend to think of them as being “muscley”, and the machines in the gym tend to focus on the aforementioned muscle groups, meaning those in the feet are often left behind.
In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers highlighted the lack of attention given by both scientists and athletes to the plantar intrinsic muscles, those found in the soles of the feet. They refer to these muscles as the “foot core”, drawing a parallel between this group and those in the abdominal core. They suggest that a weak foot core can increase your risk of fatigue, pain, and injury in the same way a weak abdominal core would.
The reason that the muscles in the foot core can have such an impact on your overall ability is that they are the literal foundation of your exercise routine. A strong foot core supports the other muscles involved in running, but most importantly, stabilises the feet, making you far less likely to fall and injure yourself.
Fortunately, strengthening the foot core is one of the easiest things you could ever do, as long as you can devote a few minutes a day to one simple exercise. You can see a video of Patrick McKeon, the lead researcher on the foot core study, explaining how to strengthen the core here.
No matter what your reasons for exercising are, doing a well-rounded workout will always yield better results than focusing your attention on a few specific areas. If you are just starting out, then knowing this from the get-go could be a big advantage. But even if you are a seasoned athlete, it’s never too late to catch up, and you could soon find that changing your focus a little bit could help you take your abilities to the next level.