Why your feet matter
Your feet are your foundation, they give us stability, balance, grip, and strength to walk and run. Like Tarzan, if you were born in the jungle and never wore shoes you would maintain the functional foot mechanics and appearance that you are born with known as “Natural Feet.” Natural feet are built to be robust with toes splayed out (not touching or overlapping) and strong arches that provide a nice stable base of support for the feet. Unfortunately due to modern footwear, we have compromised the integrity of our feet creating an unnatural standard of what we now consider to be “normal” feet. Most footwear is not designed for “natural” feet and tends to taper off to a point that compresses the toes, which over time can lead to deformities (bunions)
Biomechanics of the Foot
You may have heard of the term "Pronation" and Supination" which are normal foot mechanics of the feet.
- Pronation = foot leaning inward
- Supination = foot leaning outward
For example, when we take a step while walking our heel strikes first, and the foot rolls forward and slightly turns inward (pronation) as our arches collapse to generate shock absorption. Then the foot rolls slightly back as you push off (supination) completing the step.
Where things go wrong: if we're assessing the feet from a standing position
Over-pronation (flat feet): due to collapsed arches limiting shock absorption
Over supination (high arches): when too much of your weight rolls to the outer edges of your feet.
Mobility Test For The Feet
Single leg balance on 1 leg (30 secs) (eyes closed)
- Step 1: Pour a thin layer of water into a shallow pan.
- Step 2: Wet the sole of your foot.
- Step 3: Step onto a blank piece of heavy paper.
- Step 4: Step off and look down.
NORMAL ARCH - If you see about half of your arch region filled in, you have the most common foot type. Usually, this means you have an arch that naturally supports your body weight and pronates normally under load. Most runners with this arch type can wear just about any shoe.
FLAT ARCH - If the arch of your footprint is filled in, chances are your foot collapses inward. This acts as a shock absorber, but the additional rolling in of your foot may stress your feet and knees, adding to your injury risk.
HIGH ARCH - If your footprint shows little or no contact along the outside edge and you see just your heel and the ball of your foot, you have a “high” arch. Your foot may not roll in much when you run, but it doesn’t absorb much shock.
Exercises for the Feet
It gives us the opportunity to restore our foot function and adds blood flow, awareness, and proprioception.
Plantar Fascia Lacrosse Roll
This mobilization exercise is great for restoring foot function and for anyone who suffers from plantar fasciitis
- Step 1: Intentionally roll out the foot, gradually applying firm pressure from the ball of the foot to the heel (starting at the metatarsals) - 2 mins
- Work your way up and down the foot and side to side and when you hit a hot spot, stay on that area and breathe until the intensity lessens
- Step 2: Do this for 2 mins on each foot twice a day
Another thing to keep in mind is we want to be intentional when we're mobilizing, don't get lazy with this drill but also don't go so hard that it's unbearable for you.
The idea is to not go too hard that it's causing excruciating pain but not too soft that it's hardly doing anything, your goal should be tolerable discomfort, and then eventually you should get to the point where standing on the ball doesn't hurt at all.
Sit your bum back into your toes (2 mins).
Human Toe Spreader
This is a great mobility drill, especially for women who wear narrow-toed shoes that compress the toes together.
- Step 1: Start by Interlacing your fingers between your toes,
- Depending on how thick your fingers are this might be a bit of a challenge so take your time. If this is painful to do it means that your fascia is locked up and the toes have become weak
- Step 2: once you have a good grip, begin rotating your hand in a circular fashion while emphasizing flexion and extension of the toes - do this for about a minute
- Afterward, stretch the toes towards your shin and hold for a few seconds
- Then stretch the toes in the opposite direction and hold for a few seconds
- Repeat this action 3-5 times
- Step 3: Open the fingers
- Step 4: Repeat 2-3 times
- Step 5: Extend the toes (still squeezing)
- Step 6: Flex the toes (still squeezing)
- Step 7: Turn foot into Pronation
- Step 8: Turn foot into Supination
- Step 1: Try to lift all your toes up at once (10 reps)
- Step 2: Lift the toes and try to curl them (10 reps)
- Step 3: Big Toe isolation (10 reps)
- Step 4: 4 Toes Isolation (10 reps)
- Step 5: Toe Waves (pinky to Big and back)
- Step 1: Using Marble’s crunch the toes and pick them up one by one
- Step 2: Use a towel as an alternative