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I am a fairly proficient forefoot runner (10K in 41:30) but I am really niggled about my form. When I toe-off my feet are not in-line with my knee. Is this something that can be corrected?

Here is a recent race photograph of me:

Runner finishing race

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Is this causing any pain or discomfort? Why do you feel it needs to be corrected? –  Ryan Miller Apr 1 '13 at 16:49
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My feet naturally splay out. If it's not causing any problems, then it's your body self selecting a natural motion. –  JohnP Apr 1 '13 at 17:14
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When things don't line up well, you may want to have a physical therapist check the tightness of your hip rotators, adductors etc. to see if there are some exercises to correct your alignments. –  BackInShapeBuddy Apr 1 '13 at 19:57
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One thing you can check - Sit on a bench high enough that your feet won't touch. Scoot back until the bend in your knee is at the edge of the bench. Let your feet hang naturally and look down at them. If they point outwards or inwards, that is (usually) your natural alignment. –  JohnP Apr 1 '13 at 21:54
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Duplicate of this question? fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/3900/… –  Matt Chan Apr 3 '13 at 1:50
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4 Answers 4

Im assuming your knees also move inwards when you squat. This is the same basic mechanism.

Why do feet splay outwards, and knees go inwards?

The main hip flexor is the iliopsoas muscle, located deep within the hip. It flexes your thigh toward your chest. Or, as in running, moves your knees forward after toeing off. When this muscle is to weak other accessory hip flexors activate to allow you to perform this function. One of the main ones in this respect is the tensor fasciae late (TFL). This is the muscle inconveniently located on the sides of the hips, making it an inefficient hip flexor.

TFL is actually a prime leg abductor (it moves the leg laterally). What happens when it contracts during running is that your knees move slightly inwards during the forward motion (perhaps also during the push-off, as is the case when squatting). This causes a lateral rotation of the tibia; the shins are rotated outwards. Since the feet are aligned with the tibia, the outward rotation of the tibia also makes your feet splay outwards.

What does this mean for you?

In order to correct the imbalance and faulty rotation that occurs at the hip, your best bet is to strengthen the iliopsoas.

How can this be done?

One basic exercise is this: sit on the edge of a chair with your hip and knees bent roughly 90°. Arch your lower back (this is important for all exercises involving this muscle since it attaches there, and thus provides a stable base for its contraction). Then raise one leg at a time as high as you can. This is the closest you will get to isolating the iliopsoas.

Do contractions, or static exercises in that position. Eventually add weights to your ankles, or put them on your knees.

I am a professional sprinter, and at the end of my medical studies, and I can tell you that this muscle is of great importance in running. It has vastly improved my acceleration (which is not that exciting information for you), but also my leg push-off recovery (which should be very exciting news). This has allowed me to increase my top speed even further by allowing my knees to lift higher, the stride to be longer and faster. It has also eliminated my problem from when I started practicing athletics, which is that my knees went inwards during squatting.

Edit: I just read in one of your comments that your feet point outward even when standing still, so I will add a small comment to my answer.

The iliopsoas would help correct this problem while running, but since it is not active when standing still, this suggests some other cause. It is true, what some have said here, that every person has his individual body type, but they can also change (such as getting better posture bu changing the relative strengths of flexors and extensors).

There are two more exercises/muscle groups that could help you: medial rotators and semitendinosus/semimembranosus muscles.

1) Medial rotators are the muscles that rotate your thigh inwards in the hip socket. By strengthening these muscles you can increase the tension they create to maintain the legs, and thus the feet, at a slightly more inward angle.

2) Semitendinosus and semimembranosus are two of the main knee flexors, besides biceps femoris. These three muscles originate from the same place at the hip, but their distal attachments differ, and as such their actions also. Biceps femoris attaches to the lateral part of your tibia (shin). When it contracts, it bends the knee while causing lateral rotation of the tibia over the knee joint. Basically, the feet splay outward. However, the other two muscles attach on the inside part of the tibia, and as such causes it to rotate inwards while running. Your problem could stem from the fact that your biceps femoris is stronger than the semi-muscles, which makes your feet assume the natural position of pointing outwards.

Exercising these three muscles/muscle groups is the only way to correct your problem physiologically and biomechanically. Either try them one at a time, or all at once; incorporate them into your regular strength routine and you might see some progress.

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If it is, in fact, a muscle problem and not just the way the person is built, this is good information. –  JohnP Sep 3 '13 at 22:06
    
The only way to know the true cause in Karls problem is to physically examine him. However, any type of structural difference can be more or less corrected using appropriate training; it depends on the degree of structural difference from normal. In his case, maybe a perfect alignment will not be possible, but the degree of splaying will at least be reduced by the right exercise. –  Darko Sarovic Sep 10 '13 at 17:02
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If you are a serious runner this is a big deal. Don't let others tell you that it is what it is. You are adding extra tension and wear on your hamstrings and groin.

From past experience the splay is due to tight hips, gait issues, or a muscle imbalance. Often I would see the "splay" get worse as a runner tired.

I would suggest a few things

  • Focus on stretching your hips
  • Make sure your shoes fit right for your feet
  • Focus more while you are training. The fact that you know you splay your feet should be an advantage. Can you run a mile without doing it if that is what you are focusing on? I often saw people's form go out the window when they were tired. No matter how you feel, doing this is making it worse not better. Do not accept that your body is less efficient than another person's.
  • If you are still having issues try doing some sprint work to focus on form. Tape yourself and figure out what is causing the splay. I know it is just one picture but I noticed your arms were out wide causing a slight rotation - does that help the splay (or does the splay cause the arm rotation)??

You know that if you were just 3% more efficient you would be at a 40min 10k.

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Do you have references that state it's "always" tight muscles? Body morphology dictates feet angles, there are people that are naturally pigeon toed (point inwards) or duck footed (splay outwards). Encouraging someone with this natural build to run straight footed will cause just as many problems as a straight pointed foot runner having their feet point out. –  JohnP Aug 2 '13 at 15:00
    
He is splaying a lot out. It could be hips and I am sure he has some inclination. But look at his legs they are out a lot too. I think this is more than a pigeon toe no pigeon toe issue. –  DMoore Aug 2 '13 at 15:35
    
@John No matter what kind of morphology you have - unless it is very extreme - it can be fixed with patience and practice. Can't give up on it that quick. –  Tom Aug 2 '13 at 15:59
    
@Tom - Actually, no it can't. When my knees point straight ahead, my feet are at a significant outward angle. This is just how my body is built. I attempted to run "straight footed" several different times for extended periods, and it caused pain and other issues until a doc told me to stop, that was just my natural foot position. –  JohnP Aug 2 '13 at 16:04
    
@DMoore - Look at his plant foot. It is nearly straight, with the knee tracking straight ahead. Many people point/cock their feet on the follow through. If it is causing issues, then yes something needs to be looked at. If it not causing issues, then it's unimportant. And as I already pointed out, analyzing from a static picture like this can be very misleading, you need a video or to watch in person. –  JohnP Aug 2 '13 at 16:05
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There is a running store near me, Runners Lane which does a Gait Analysis. They basically watch your form on a treadmill for a few minutes. Then depending on your gait and foot size, they choose a shoe and "orthopedic" sole that helps to promote proper gait. I'm not sure how researched this is or how much it works for others, but it has since improved my gait, though I didn't have as lateral form as you.

I find that I can really improve my form by consciously thinking about my positioning and watching my feet from time to time. However, I've never ran more than a 10k and at that distance or greater you may be too tired to pay attention to form.

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My feet do the same thing but far more than yours do. I've also run a bit farther than most people (albeit very slowly) and it's not a problem.

Gary Moller (a NZ sports advisor and naturopath) advises some exercises to correct this. I tried them for a while and saw little effect - this may have just been me.

There's a lot said about gait but very little science - what little there is disputed. If you have no symptoms of a problem then I would conclude you're fine. However, if that's not the case then I would consult a kinesiologist to get some specific exercises.

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