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Coach Mat O’Halloran on deck at Gran Canaria this week.

When most athletes think of injuries, they think of shoulders, back, hamstring, etc. However, in the world of triathlon, one of the most important, overused and under-cared parts of our body are our two feet. Even when we are not training, they are at work in our daily lives. The reality is that they can be rudimentary to various pains in the rest of our bodies. They can be the root of a small but significant discomfort and antagonise other injuries due to overcompensation.

Organised foot care goes back thousands of years. There is proof that even Pharaohs in Egypt and noble men in southern Babylonia took care of their feet using golden tools. Beyond the modern aesthetic and part of good grooming (feet, toes and nails) – once upon a time, a small issue with your feet, could quickly escalate into a full blown life threatening problem. Most especially if it compromises one’s ability to hunt or escape danger.

Feet_PharaohsEgyptian & Babylonian nobles knew the value in looking after their feet!

Once foot pain arises, it may compel athletes to put more pressure on the other foot or to land on another part of their foot, of which can quickly cause soreness or strain on another area of your lower leg. As the reality is that we take 10’s of thousands of steps each day. Then, since triathletes are exposed to various environments at the pool, racing/training sockless or being in extreme outdoor situation, the risk of infection with an open wounds is greatly increased. This is especially true when using multiple types of foot wear that might accumulate various bacteria over time.

The solution not probably associated with High Performance triathlon programs?

Investing in a monthly pedicure can help prevent ingrown nails, blisters and toe numbness. By removing dead skin, calluses, warts and corn, it increases circulation and makes the skin smoother. This will help to lessen friction with any outside surface and prevents ‘pockets’ to form. Particular since it’s an area with little muscle and fat, the thin skin and prominent tendons, make topical problems more likely. The major idea, if to PREVENT these problems.

Beyond the basics benefits of a pedicure, many end with a short foot massage, of which can give great overall health benefits and relaxation to the whole body or mind. There’s plenty of literature on foot reflexology that shows the existence of a connection with various internal organs.

Foot Chart

Here are additional various tips to maintain healthy feet:

  • Clean your shoes regularly
  • Always wear clean socks and buy those of superior fabric
  • Get a pedicure once per month, but not before a big workout or race
  • Wear properly cushioned foot wear to walk around after big workouts
  • Self massage your feet before bed
  • Soak your feet in warm salt water when you feel blisters coming or before cutting your nails
  • Pop and drain blisters sooner than later, sterilize and let them breathe at home but cover when outside
  • Don’t walk barefoot in foreign or potentially dirty areas

Another critical aspect, is to avoid wearing flip flops too often or for extended periods. Especially after a workout, when you have any foot/lower leg issues or open wounds. It’s proven that your gait or walking style is altered when we wear flip flops. Our toes are forced to curl and grip the sole as we lift our feet, this can put extra strain to our arch, Achilles or calf. All the while providing little to no arch support. All this can trigger tendinitis or increase inflammation in various areas of our lower leg.

In fact, a 2009 report on the Today Show, according to the University of Miami, they once found a single pair of flip flops with 18 000+ different types of bacteria.

I’m not saying avoid flip flops, simply limit your use of them, especially before/after workouts, before races or when you know you will be on your feet for extended periods of time. If you do live in a very tropical, hot or humid country like I do – definitely invest in top end brands like Fit-Flop, Reef or if it’s your thing, Crocs. And of course, keep them clean by washing them regularly!

In the end, keeping our feet healthy is a fundament part of our health, wellbeing and history. While modern civilization permits our feet to be under used and become a bit weak, for triathletes it can be the source of many problems that go beyond ugly feet. So invest a little, take the extra time and get your feet taken care off, to see for yourself, the overall benefits of superior foot care!

View Coach Mat O’Halloran’s full profile here. triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

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