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Returning to sport or the gym after lockdown

Whether you have played a sport or frequented the gym prior to lockdown or developed a fitness regime during the last few months and are planning to take your exercise elsewhere once fitness centres are open, you should consider the footwear you’re using.

During lockdown, I for one have been training barefoot at home. I know that I am not alone in this. Those that haven’t, may have been wearing super soft running trainers for exercise. Similarly, those who play sports which require specific footwear more than likely won’t have been using them at home.

Sports-specific footwear does have clear benefits; from being lightweight to enhancing performance to better energy absorption. Studs on rugby boots help to prevent forwards from slipping over in the mud during a scrum. Sprinting shoes are incredibly lightweight for speed, with spikes on the soles for traction. Weightlifting shoes are often elevated at the heel, sometimes with wood, to allow for greater range of motion at the ankle in squatting and deadlifting movements. These shoes are all designed with a purpose. This purpose is not (usually) met when training at home, so they have likely been collecting dust.

Something else these types of shoes have in common is their stiff soles. They are much less flexible and spongy than standard running shoes. This means that the loading pattern is very specific and unlike that of a standard trainer or even your barefoot. This might seem like a non-issue, shoes are shoes, aren’t they? Well yes… however, going from either no shoes or spongy trainers to stiff soled shoes, presents the structures of the lower leg with a potential problem.

As gyms start to open and sports fixtures are allowed to take place once again, many of us are picking up our trusty shoes to put back on when the time comes, without a second thought. As a result, the muscles, tendons and fascia within the foot, ankle and calf will face a much greater and more specific mechanical load when returning to training. This means there is an increased potential risk of soft tissue injury to these structures.

After waiting several months to continue your favourite form of exercise, I don’t imagine picking up an injury is on your agenda. So, what can you do to help to prevent this from occurring?

  • Gradually increase the frequency with which you wear your stiff-soled shoes - your muscles and tendons will have time to adapt to this change in load. The structures haven’t faced this stimulus in 3+ months, so reimplementing it bit by bit is going to be key.

  • If you’re still having to train from home with a view to return soon, try wearing your sports-specific shoes for movements that the sport demands, which you may not have included so much in your home workouts - be it cutting, jumping or deep squats

If you don’t work out at all, but you occasionally wear high-heeled shoes, these are still points for you to consider. That all-too-familiar pain in the calf and/or Achilles tendon after an evening wearing heels for the first time in months is a result of the same principle - a very specific loading pattern that your body isn’t used to.

Written by Emma, our Sports Therapist


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