While it’s not an exercise with direct specificity to running or any sport in general (and while a host of factors will affect the type of stress the lower leg has to endure), what’s your general take on a bit of direct dorsiflexion work with something like a D.A.R.D.?
Great question, and I am going to include a small discussion of the use of focused dorsiflexion in a coming post with relation to some of my transition to barefoot running.
I do, indeed, think that the use of the DARD and things like toe raises, heel walking, and other variations of loaded dorsiflexion have a place in a runners’ programming. The one issue that I really grapple with is that toes moving toward the tibia is not how dorsiflexion works in during stance phase of running. Instead, it is tibia moving toward the foot and it is more of an eccentric contraction of the plantar flexors under gravity’s load that makes that happen. That said, there is likely a role of controlling and helping to advance the tibia through stance. You can definitely argue that dorsiflexion during swing phase is a result of (in part) activity of the dorsiflexors and aids in ground clearance. If you don’t have this level of dorsiflexion ability, you will see premature ground contacts, and greater braking forces, and a loss of transitional energy with such an impact.
As it’s not going to harm us, and potentially be beneficial, I do include them in our programming in a number of places. Typically, I’ll use them in athletes with functional hallux limitus to try and counterbalance tone of the deep flexors, and athletes who are generally “flat footed” and demonstrate excessive pronation. As the tibialis anterior is a big muscle in dorsiflexion and also a big player in subtalar stability, so it may check excessive eversion (though this is debated) that has been associated with the onset of some running injuries.
I also utilize a lot of deep squat patterning that involves active dorsiflexion, knee, and hip flexion in a variety of orientations that also are good (and bigger bang for your buck) interventions. This stuff fits really well on lower push days or in the movement prep or as a “filler” between bigger lifts.