One of the great benefits for runners of using the gym for training is to be able to use the power plate (a vibration platform). Most people have no idea what to do on it and many just use it for massage.
Once you understand the overriding importance of your feet (you’d think that would be obvious to most runners, but most just think they need a ‘stronger core’ ), then you realise how useful these machines are for runners.
Here are some of the benefits;
- Stimulation and activation of the nerves and muscles of the foot. Your feet are incredibly complex from an anatomical point of view and an absolute miracle of engineering. Everything starts from the foot and without being able to create a stable platform or proper propulsion, you can guarantee problems all the way up the kinetic chain sooner or later. Wearing most kinds of shoe makes achieving either highly unlikely, since they dampen the vibrations from the ground that are essential for the elastic recoil that we need to push off again. We also are unable to feel the skin stretch on the bottom of the feet that sets off this mechanism. Getting barefoot on the vibrating plate starts to activate this system again and is excellent preparation for running therefore.
2. The muscles of the foot are essential for proper balance and stability and loss of these will create muscular imbalance and a predisposition to injury. With our feet tightly squeezed together in shoes most of the time we are unable to spread our toes and fascia properly to be stable. Tribes that have never worn shoes have their toes spread like our fingers. Just imagine trying to pick something up with all the fingers of your hand pressed together like your toes probably are and you see how compromised our ability to feel the ground has become.
3. We are able to get a lot of muscle activation in a very short period of time, especially in the muscles of the legs and the gluteals. Compare a minute of single leg calf raises or squats on the machine with the same on the floor and you will appreciate the difference. You can also more easily establish the connection between your feet and gluteal muscles when you stand on the plate and push down on the big toe. Many people have lost this connection and their gluteals have ceased to fire properly therefore. This will cause other muscles to do the job instead and lead ultimately most likely to injury.
There are many other benefits also, like increased blood flow to the skin, better lymphatic drainage, greater flexibility etc. Much of this has scientific research to back it up, especially through the barefoot science movement.
So what kind of exercises should you do on the plate?
1. It is great for training balance and stability so single leg activities are favoured – such as single leg squats, calf raises, eccentric heel drops to strengthen the Achilles etc.
2. Simple exercises like toe touching to activate and stretch the hamstrings, simple lunges for the quads. Double leg squats of all kinds, including turning them into more whole body movements using the upper body muscles with overhead presses and out of the usual exercises you can do on the floor. Don’t put your head or spine on the plate obviously, although things like push ups and tricep dips can be done with extra muscle activation as a bonus.
3. Massage for all the muscles of the legs and the gluteals, by resting the area on the plate and letting the vibrations to the work (approach some obvious areas with caution like the knees and the sacrum and begin with the lowest possible settings). You can also use foam rollers, balls etc. on top of the plate for added effect. Then you can also do traditional bodyweight stretches for the lower body especially, with seemingly greater range of movement as the outcome.
A word of caution.
Approach with care. Start with the lowest settings and don’t overdo the power plate work because it seems that overuse and high settings can actually dampen proprioception and potentially cause nerve damage. Also check with your GP if you have any artificial devices such as pacemakers etc inside you as the effects on these are not known.
Used correctly, though, the power plate is a great tool for runners. Guys there is far more to what we do in the gym to help runners than just ‘strengthening the core’. It all starts with the feet and, as long as we ignore this and just think about abdominal exercises, we will continue to see massive injury rates among runners and massive under performance too. As a runner, your feet are your biggest asset and the absolute key to proper functioning of the whole kinetic chain. This is where your gym work should start – not lying face down doing planks or lying on your back doing bike crunches or sit ups.
For a free introductory session on the power plate get in touch now;
If you are interested in discovering how to improve your running and minimise injury risk, why not talk to me about the Running Gym programme, now available in either 1:1 or small group format at the White Horse Leisure centre in Abingdon?