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The yoga move that changed how I lift & run

Yoga – it’s not something you associate with lifting weights or running through forests and mountains – but there is one simple yoga move that can make a big difference to running and resistance training.

Dom Cadden

Before the yoga-haters and those of you who think you have all the flexibility of a rock flip me the bird, let me tell you that if you can wriggle your toes, you can do this move.

Lift from a stable base

Here’s the problem – you go to lift a weight off the floor or do any exercise in a standing position and you’re unbalanced. It might be because too much weight goes through the front of your feet or because you’re rocking about through the feet, ankles or lower legs. It may be ever so slight, but it’s enough to compromise how much you lift, how fast you lift it and how much you get injured or sore.

Many lifts – any type of deadlift or squat are good examples – are best done by driving your weight down through your heels as you lift. More than one client has asked, “So do I lift my toes to do that?” The answer is, “Hell, no!”

Feet first

It’s all about having a good foundation – and this starts at the feet.

Many yoga styles talk about the importance of “being rooted”. That is, like a tree, not a broken-down car or a hot young movie star who likes to party.

In a yoga standing pose such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana), there’s a point where you plug down the front of the heel, the root of the little toe, and the root of the big toe – it feels like you’re trying to grip into the floor via a triangular base. When you do this, the inner arch of the foot pushes upward to create “equal standing” through the inner and outer side of each ankle joint. The result is a steadier foundation.

Working up the chain

But it’s so much more than that. If the inner ankle drops, the groin muscles often also collapse. In turn, the weakness of the inner thighs leaves the lower back vulnerable to compression.

Muscles in your big toes support the ligaments and bones that make up your arches. Healthy arches act like shock absorbers, affecting how force travels up your legs to the hips and buttocks, which in turn also affects muscle and joint alignment. Weak big-toe flexor muscles may change the strength and effectiveness of the largest muscle in your butt.

In powerlifting, we talk about trying to activate muscles before we even lift – this becomes easier when you use this “floor-gripping” action, because the activation of muscles at the feet helps trigger muscle activation up the legs, all the way to the glutes. It made sense – I’d used the same principle in bench press competitions, gripping the bar as tightly as I could, starting from the little finger, to activate muscles through wrists and arms all the way up to the shoulders and torso.

Grip & run

I naturally have flat feet, so I had been prone to blisters on my arches from running or even walking a lot. Using this “floor-gripping” stance in the gym helped prevent this, even when I began training for trail ultramarathons. Then I developed a bad case of ‘turf toe’ – painful swelling in the bones at the base of the big toe. It’s an injury that usually comes from excessive upward bending of the big toe joint (running, jumping) or stubbing or jamming the toe (seen in ballet dancers, footballers). For me it was probably a combination – when you run downhill on unstable surfaces, your feet can move inside the shoe and your toes smash into the ends of your shoes. Several months went by and nothing made it better. I had to change how I ran.

I began using a gentle “gripping” motion with my toes inside my shoes when I ran – especially going downhill. This limited how much I flexed my big toes and stopped excessive foot movement in my shoes (it may also help prevent plantar fasciitis). Not only did the turf toe heal (even though I was running more), I got less blisters on toes and feet, and my foot contact time going downhill especially was faster and less damaging.

So next time you lift or run, think about how you can improve from the ground up by performing this little feat with your feet.

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