Written by Ryan Brown
Podophilia is an obsession with feet and, increasingly, over the past couple of weeks, I think I am starting to develop one.
It is for a good reason. I am finding more and more that as I improve someones foot position, I improve their overall movement quality. Just think about what the foot does, and what it is responsible for. While you are walking around your foot must be able to become flexible, yet still strong, to act as a shock absorber, then become rigid again in order to propel you forward. If you think about how much standing you do, and how much walking you do, you can imagine how if your foot wasn’t functioning properly, you would really jack up your knees, hips, and subsequently every thing that you do all the time.
“In order to allow it to support the weight of the body in the erect posture with the least expenditure of material, the foot is constructed of a series of arches formed by the tarsal and metatarsal bones, and strengthened by the ligaments and tendons of the foot.”- Henry Gray, Anatomy of the Human Body
Let’s talk about the basics of the foot before we talk about what we can do to fix it. The foot is an incredible structure, and when it functions properly it can act to absorb a massive amount of force (saving your knees, hips, and low back from taking a beating), then quickly stiffen up to translate all of the force of your hips and legs into the ground. This action is made possible by a complex arrangement of 26 bones, making up 33 joints and all held together by over 100 tendons, ligaments and muscles. Having an arch in your foot is commonly talked about, however many people lose sight of the fact that the foot should actually have multiple arches.
The “arch” in the foot that most people think of is actually made up of 3 arches that could be referred to as the antero-posterior arches. The medial arch is made up by the calcaneus, the talus, the navicular, the three cuneiforms, and the first, second, and third metatarsals. The lateral arch consists of the calcaneus, the cuboid, and the fourth and fifth metatarsals. The fundamental longitudinal arch is contributed to by both, and consists of the calcaneus, cuboid, third cuneiform, and third metatarsal: all the other bones of the foot may be removed without destroying this arch.
We all notice and recognize “flat feet” as a lack of an arch, however the arches that aren’t commonly looked for when addressing problems are the transverse arches. The transverse arches present the foot to have a half dome shape and also create a more “broad” foot. The transverse arches are strengthened by the interosseous, plantar, and dorsal ligaments, by the short muscles of the first and fifth toes (especially the transverse head of the Adductor hallucis), and by the Peronæus longus, whose tendon stretches across between the piers of the arches.
I like to focus more on the transverse arches of the foot because a common theme that I see is a lack of control of the lateral edge of the foot. Try this quick test- 1. take off your shoes and socks 2. now wiggle your little toe
Can you move it side to side? Curl it under? Pull it back?
For many people the answer is no. This can be for a number of reasons. The biggest is probably the fact that we always have shoes on, basically wearing a splint on our feet all the time so we slowly lose the ability to move and demonstrate good control of them. I have also seen the “knees out” cue given while teaching the squat, and then notice an improvement in the anterio-posterior arches. Often times, however, this can cause the athlete to shift weight to the lateral edge of the foot and collapse the transverse arches of the foot.
Why does it matter? Well, because the foot was designed to distribute stress evenly, and if you aren’t doing it evenly then you aren’t doing it optimally. The focus never seems to be on the foot, it is usually on the knees or on the hips, but the truth is that the ability to maintain a good foot position will do more for your knee pain, low back pain, and hip mobility than anything else. A good foot should be capable of 35 degrees of inversion (foot turned inward) and 25 degrees in eversion (foot turned outward). In addition, your toes should be about to flex about 30 degrees and extend about 70-80 degrees. You should be able to achieve those ranges actively. Meaning that you should be able to move your toes and foot that much without using your hand to move it there.
SO, YOU WANT ME TO GO BUY SOME TOE SHOES?
No, not really. Toe shoes make you look like a tool. I would certainly recommend something that doesn’t smash your toes together though. Truth is, most people’s feet are too weak to handle wearing a minimalist shoe for any length of time at first. It can often times cause more problems than good. What I recommend is doing the drills that are in these videos. I also recommend people do their warm up drills barefoot. You should notice that Dr. Quinn and I cue every single movement from the foot first. That is not an accident. As long as you have done the glute activation/strengthening work before you get onto your feet, then cueing a good foot position is going to give you better ankle position, better knee position, and better hip position. I always encourage people to do their accessory work (lunges, single leg variations, etc) barfoot, if they are able to maintain a good foot position. Strengthening the foot and a good foot position will still present a carryover when you put your lifting shoes back on, as well as into your everyday life as you walk around.
Add these drills in, fix your feet and your performance in all activities will benefit. (skip to 4:10 of the second video in order to get a close up of my feet)
Learn more from Ryan at DSstrength.com