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Soon, you'll be getting up off that sofa you've been comfortably slumped on and your feet will escape the confines of the slippers they've been enjoying since the lockdown began! Soon, you'll be back out in the great outdoors and your feet will get their trainers back!
But be careful! You will need to take care after this period of inactivity. To help your return to sport go smoothly, here are a few tips to use at home right now. The goal is to use the lockdown to look after your feet like never before, by doing exercises that you never usually take the time to do.
OUR EXPERT: Clément Scalliet. Physiotherapist and sports osteopath based in Lyon. Many feet pass through his hands: feet belonging to top-level athletes, diligent enthusiasts and occasional sportspeople.
By definition, the lockdown means less physical activity and limited movement. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to rack up the recommended 10,000 steps a day. As a result, your feet are used less and weaken. As the days go by, they lose tone, reflexes and muscle strength. While it would be a bit of an exaggeration to say that your feet "rust", the image is meaningful enough to illustrate how your foot mobility reduces and they stiffen up. The advice and exercises below are designed to slow down or even counteract this weakening during the lockdown.
Thinking beyond your feet, you need to keep your whole body physically active. Keep moving as much as possible. Spend between 30 minutes to an hour on your home trainer, exercise bike, treadmill or the circuit you have made for yourself. This is to keep up your cardio, limit the risks of being too sedentary and maintain a sense of psychological balance. Sport provides a feeling of wellbeing in these difficult times as exercise stimulates the release of endorphins: those famous "happy hormones".
"GPP", short for "General Physical Preparation", is famous in the running world for the benefits it's supposed to offer, despite its lack of popularity from a practical point of view. In other words, lots of people talk about it, but few actually do it! Involving core building, muscle strengthening and stretching, GPP is a comprehensive workout that gives the body the means to perform exercises risk-free. GPP is an activity facilitator as well as a performance enhancer and a way of preventing injury. Overall, it will make your feet intrinsically stronger, as it will your whole body.
Foot benefit: Strength
The arch is the cornerstone of your foot. Although it may be little-used during the lockdown, you need to keep it moving as it's key to the cushioning and propulsion phases of the gait cycle.
To do this, repeat a very simple exercise. Standing in front of a wall, put the front of your foot on a plank, book or step. Lift your heel and try to keep the arch of the foot curved.
Foot benefit: Propulsion
Building up the muscles down the back of your body will have a positive impact on your feet, which are at the end of this chain. Strengthening the core allows you to work on posture and boost your deep leg muscles. This sets things up so that your feet only have to concentrate on adapting to the sporting context and the obstacles in your path, rather than wasting energy and alertness in correcting existing bodily imbalances.
Two exercises to strengthen the core:
Exercise 1: Lie on your forearms in a "plank" position. Make sure your body is in a straight line from top to bottom. Raise one leg. Hold the position for at least 15 seconds, and then switch to the other leg.
Exercise 2: Lie on your side, pushing a belt, bike inner tube or band as far apart as possible with your feet. Lift your legs off the ground by activating your pelvis.
Foot benefit: Robustness, posture
It's not just your old photo albums or videos that need to be dusted off during the lockdown. That skipping rope abandoned in the garage will quickly become a best friend to a sportsperson in lockdown. Why? Because it helps you imitate the start of the step or stride that happens when hiking or running. Your calves will also need to work during this exercise.
A recommendation: standing up, with or without a skipping rope (an "air skipping rope" also works), jump for 2 minutes on one leg, then on the other leg and finally on both legs.
Foot benefit: Dynamism
Proprioception is essential for balance: not necessarily the balance in your life, but your physical balance as you move. Its goal is to keep the neuromotor connection between your brain and feet as alert as possible so they maintain all their reflexes, vigilance and responsiveness when you come across unstable ground. Improving proprioception can (greatly) reduce the risk of a sprained ankle.
To do this, try to balance by standing on one foot, and then the other, on a soft surface such as a cushion, sand or a bed... Your knee should be "locked". To spice things up a little: close your eyes, bend your knee, lift your heel up, sing, lift up your children...
Foot benefit: Balance, reactivity
The ankle is the linchpin in the foot. Made up of a tangle of joints, the ankle is subjected to severe stress during all sporting activity, but tends to quickly "rust" when you're immobile.
To make sure you don't forget it, stand in front of a wall with one leg in front of the other, then try to touch the wall with the knee of your front leg, without taking your heel off the ground.
Foot benefit: Flexibility
Have some free time? Use it to do all those little extras that maximise recovery: those ones you used not to bother with before you were under lockdown in your home. Stretching is the key: relaxed muscles are efficient muscles.
We recommend two stretches:
First, lying on your back, raise one leg vertically using a band around the front of your foot. Bring the knee towards you when your heel is pointing at the ceiling. Your toes are taut.
Second, stand in front of a wall. Put one foot in front of the other, in a line perpendicular to the wall. Bring your body weight forward while preventing your heel lifting off and your knee bending back.
Foot benefit: Flexibility
As part of optimising recovery, after a physical activity session wear our sandals rather than slippers. These recovery sandals promote better blood circulation and so limit that feeling of "heavy legs" that can happen after exercise.
Foot benefit: Comfort
Although you can no longer go out to the physiotherapist, feel free to do some self-massage which is also highly effective. This can be done using this handy little Blackroll foam roller or by applying a moisturiser to "tired" areas of the body.
Foot benefit: Energy, recovery
One of the most important tips is definitely to return to your favourite hiking or running routes with cautious enthusiasm! Going back to physical activity too quickly and too hard will certainly lead to pain or injuries that could prevent you hitting the trails... So, return to exercise gently, progressively and carefully, with the same vigilance you would use after an injury or time out of the game.
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Good luck to you all!