It’s time we talk about feet. If you’ve worked with me or seen me around the gym, you probably know I’m not the biggest fan of shoes. When I think of shoes, I think of coffins… for our feet. We are forced to wear shoes all day every day out in public. I’m not anti-shoe in all situations. They have a time and place. For example, weightlifting: a solid firm heel helps improve ankle and hip positioning for deeper and more upright squats. Runners need to wear shoes to protect their knees for long distances while supporting their stride. Catch my drift? However, when it’s time to warm up the body, stretch, and get ready for dynamic movement, I think it’s time for the shoes to come off.
There are numerous benefits to ditching the shoes and feeling the strong sturdy ground we walk upon. This post is about the benefits of caring for our feet. I’m going to drop some knowledge on the feet so that hopefully you can learn to respect your feet and treat them kindly. Our feet deserve and require daily TLC. No better way to thank our feet for getting us to and from life’s journeys than to care for them and honor their unique complexity. Oh, the feet, the unspoken heroes. Our feet contain 26 bones in each. When you add the bones in both feet, you get a quarter of the 206 bones in the entire body! Each foot contains 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. They lay beneath the tibia and fibula (the lower leg bones), and they connect to the femur via the knee joint. The knee joint directly relates to our hip socket and pelvis. This demonstrates that our primary foundation for directional movement is supported and directed by our feet.
Did you know that we have three primary arches of the feet? We have the medial longitudinal arch between the big toe and heel, the lateral longitudinal arch between the little toe and heel, and the transverse arch between the balls of the big and little toe. These arches develop over a lifetime. We are born with flat feet, and it’s only through development of how we stand and walk that the arches take their shape. Why are arches important? A healthy arch is needed to lift you off of your joints and get deeper muscles working. The ankle for example absorbs more shock than any other joint in the body, and when our arches are not there to distribute the weight proportionally onto the ankle, it can lead to the ankle collapsing on either side. Then the knee deviates, then the hip torques, and from there it turns into a biomechanical nightmare.
The problem I see is that these arches are getting neglected (no love). They are shoved into shoes, forcing them to take the shape of the shoe, instead of taking the shape needed to move you across your terrain most naturally. When your feet feel ignored they rebel and develop compensatory patterns. For example, over time many people’s arches collapse due to too much gravity weight and force going down instead of lifting up. Another reason arches disappear is because of repetitive movement without any mindful attention brought to the ankle and foot. Another common example is the toes become stuck together as a result of weakness and stiffness developing in the fascia of the feet. When this happens the foot muscles get tight, short, and start to lock up. This throws the kinetic energy of the hips and legs off and leads to weight distributing in uneven ways throughout the sole of the foot. Many parts of the foot then stop working and these parts lose the ability to signal to other parts of the body like the ankles, knees, hips, and back.
When we do leg exercises, we typically want our knee weight to track and land directly on our talus bone (the largest bone in the foot). Like I mentioned earlier, when parts of our foot shut down the balance in our feet is thrown off, the gravity weight goes to the outer and inner ankle joint, and this leads to improper tracking of the knee and hip torquing. It’s a snowball effect from there and it trickles up your body. One way you might experience this is a recognition of asymmetrical movement, or perhaps you’re experiencing a power leak during a lift. This could all be stemming from tightness, shortness, or weakness in your foot and ankle.
Now, let’s talk about some strategies to create a more active and lively foot. First off, wear shoes less. Wearing shoes less will teach you how to stabilize your ankle better and help increase blood flow throughout the muscles in the foot. I like to have my athletes warmup barefoot. Skipping, lunges, jumping, stretching: all of these dynamic movements are great for improving proprioceptive awareness of your ankle and knee relationship. Second, roll out your feet. Different tools and tricks for rolling out your feet include tennis ball rolling (as seen in the video) and doing yoga postures barefoot. Lacrosse balls work, however they can be painful. For deeper tissue work I recommend a tennis ball or soma ball. These are softer and allow you to dig deeper, being more specific with where you target. This week’s video demonstrates foot rolling with a tennis ball. I suggest rolling 2-3x a week, for 1-3 minutes a day. Doing this will improve your functioning. Third, spend more time getting to intimately know your feet. Give yourself a foot massage (or offer one to your significant other in hopes of getting one back). Feel your way around the bones, between the toes, and along the arches. It’s a great gift to yourself and can help identify any locked areas in your feet.
If this post has really sparked your curiosity, and you want to learn more about the body’s connection to the feet, pull me aside and ask me about the foot’s relationship to the glutes and ways to use the feet to access the glutes (perhaps, a topic for another blog post). I hope you like the post and I hope you appreciate your feet a bit more after reading this. As usual, please find me if you have questions and come train with me if you are curious about getting more out of your body and your movement!