I often read the Runners Wold tips for their running enthusiasts and would be enthusiasts who are injured when they offer tips on how to remain injury free. This time the coach encourages you to push off with your big toes, and he tells you to think of the push off as a clawing motion. Interesting concept that sheds a little but not full light on a structural problem most people have that is the root cause of running injuries.
When your hips, legs and feet are in proper alignment, your knees should move over the middle of your feet. The problem most people experience is over pronation and supination, meaning the knees tend to move toward the midline of the body (pronation) or laterally (supination). It is the supinators that experience an excessively hard heel strike. The pronators have a softer heel strike, but we call them eggbeaters because their legs literally flail around because of their over pronation.
The problem is that when you are in proper alignment as mentioned above, your first metatarsal, the bone connecting the mid foot to the base of your big toe is not on the ground and weight bearing. That’s why grabbing or clawing with your big toe can be helpful because it gets your first metatarsal head to the ground earlier in the weight bearing cycle. Doing this while standing still is called a Janda Small Foot Exercise. It raises your arch, gets the first metatarsal to the ground and stabilizes your feet.
It is very difficult to do consciously, but there is a unique insole that activates the muscles that will do this for you without thinking about it.
The reason your first metatarsal is not on the ground and weight bearing as it should be is that it is elevated. Go to mortonsfoot.com and do the self-evaluation. You can see for yourself what your first metatarsal is doing and why you are not doing well running. What you will learn is that you structurally over pronate. But wait you say, I supinate! That may very well be true. In fact over 60% of people who structurally over pronate try to compensate for it by supinating their feet when they are walking and running. If you get tight calf muscles or get shin splints, you are most likely trying to supinate. Look at the wear pattern of your shoes. Hard heel strike with lateral wear tracking forward toward the little toe. If you supinate really badly, you push off with the outside of your feet although most people lose their supinating strength and end up pushing off with their second metatarsal instead. Go learn more about it. Run on hard and soft surfaces as much as you want. Good mechanics will help protect you.