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I recently started going to a personal trainer and he noticed that my feet turn out to the sides when I run. He said that I should try to correct this, but I'm not sure how to do it. Is it bad that I run this way? If so, are there exercises or running drills I can do to try to keep my feet straight? I've tried to be aware of it when running but forcing my feet to stay straight just feels uncomfortable.

It's only a slight turn, but definitely noticeable. I've been running for several years so I imagine that it will be hard to change my form, but figured I'd ask.

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6 Answers 6

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I would recommend getting your form down perfect. Because it's so repetitive, running is tailor-made to produce long-term, slow-to-appear, tough-to-diagnose pain and injury. Incorrect form might be fine for now, but over time it could cause trouble.

(I can't vouch for these sources.)

Danny Dreyer:

If your feet turn out to the side as you run, it torques your knee with every foot strike. Your leg isn’t designed to work this way. This action overworks the ligaments and tendons in the knee and eventually leads to pain. He says that the key to fixing this problem is to imagine you’re running on a tightrope, with your feet hitting along a line stretched out on the road directly in front of you.

This guy on a running forum points out that foot turn-out is not just inefficient--it caused him groin pain. It's of course anecdotal and a prime suspect for the placebo effect, but his solution worked:

So was it hard to fix this, you ask? No, not at all. I just remained conscious of it today and didn't allow it to turn. When I ran fast or went up hills, I made sure to keep my toe pointing straight ahead and sure enough, no more groin pain. So during my entire run, I felt great and fresh. I was always accelerating and never had one of those moments where I'm shuffling about. My stride remained long and relaxed.

Trainer Blake Robinson says to check for glute tightness:

[I]f your Gluteus Maximus is too tight your feet will turn out to the side as you run causing you to run on the outside of your shoe, also known as duck feet, which in turn increases the strain on the inside of your knees. To check how far your feet turn out as you run find a treadmill that faces a mirror and watch your feet just as the push-off and leave the ground.

It's possible that your gait is fine, but it definitely can't hurt to do some diagnostics. I would find a subject matter expert (i.e., a personal trainer who specializes in runners and whose trainees you want to emulate) and take a session with him or her.

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Thanks for the sources! The Danny Dreyer one is probably most relevant to me, as I've actually torn a tendon in my knee before. I wonder if it was partially caused by this. –  Lauren Sep 22 '11 at 13:48
    
Be careful with the idea of running on a tightrope. Landing with your feet too narrow can put strain on your knees and IT band. You should aim for each foot to point forward, but the landing point should be under your hip (try landing your feet either side of a white line, not on it). –  Rikki Mar 25 at 12:10

Walking/running with splayed feet seems to run in my family (me, my sister, my son). So, I think it has a genetic/anatomical component. If one's body is just built that way and it doesn't cause discomfort or pain, then why try to change your body's natural motion? Trying to change that might cause its own problems.

When I was a kid, I would consciously try to turn my feet straight when I walked. This was in part because of getting slight teasing about walking funny and my parents telling me to try to walk "straight". It never did change my walk.

As for performance, I've never had problems keeping a good sprinting speed. My son, while his issues are not as pronounced, has always been the fastest sprinter on his sports teams.

Just because something is different, don't assume it's wrong and in need of correction.

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There are shoes by New Balance that have a roll bar in the heel. I own a pair of these they were about $220 but they do keep my feet from rotating while walking/ running. I am unaware of other shoes with this same tech to correct the walking.

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Welcome to Physical Fitness! Perhaps you can add some links to your answer (e.g. to the shoes) and explain more of your own experiences of using the shoes, not only for walking but also for running. –  FredrikD Oct 13 '12 at 10:38

Having your feet turn out while running is normally caused by over-pronation. During your running motion your arch will naturally collapse at the start and then rebound to its normal arch shape as you toe off. That process is called pronation. When you over-pronate you do that too much - which leads to splayed feet.

Shoe stores will sell you motion control shoes to help correct it. However, there is no evidence that this actually helps. Nor are there any scientifically evaluated strengthening methods to help that I know of.

I run quite splay-footed and I know, from experience, that I need a fairly stiff shoe or I start getting injuries (tendinitis in the front of the shin in my case). However, take it from me, you can run 100km with splayed feet just fine. I'm not fast but I can still get the job done.

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Thanks for the answer! I'm a little confused - you said you can run 100km with splayed feet, but that if you run that way you're prone to injury? Do the stiff shoes really help that much? If so, which brand is it - maybe I'll give them a try. Thanks again! –  Lauren Sep 28 '11 at 1:43
    
You can run 100km with splayed feet in shoes that work for you. I always recommend going to a good running store and getting them to fit you to a shoe. Before I got my Mizuno trail shoes I was getting injuries; afterwards those injuries stopped. I run in Asics for my road shoes. –  Sarge Oct 1 '11 at 11:28

Go to a store that specializes in running. They will have the equipment and expertise to diagnose your stride and suggest improvements.

A lot of people overlook the importance of having a running coach, thinking running is "natural" so they must be doing it correctly. The truth is, many people have less than ideal stride and need to practice foot placement if not use corrective shoes.

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It's probably not important to correct. Slight foot flair (feet pointing outward) is normal for a lot of people. If you've been successfully running that way for a while and it's comfortable, I'd keep it up.

Here's a forum post on the subject.

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