Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Whether you play sport, train for a very specific goal, or simply exercise to keep on top of your physical and mental health, you will rely heavily on producing force into the ground through your feet. Even if you don't realise it yet, your feet play an enormous role in everything that you do.
If you want to squat bigger, sprint faster, jump higher or simply reduce injury risk at the knee and lower back, then you should take this pretty seriously.
Yes, it may be your larger muscle groups such as the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps that produce the majority of the force, but your feet are the only contact points when you apply that force into the ground. If the structure of your foot and/or ankle is weak, then a lot of that energy will leak, or worse... the tissues will not tolerate such forces and you'll get injured.
Sprinting, running, decelerating, skipping, hopping, bounding, lunging, squatting and kicking all require a structurally strong foot and ankle.
Even when in the gym performing olympic lifts, heavy presses, carries, standing/bent over row variations etc, you will rely on a strong stable foot to help you stay balanced and grounded in order to work efficiently.
I bet you don't train your feet though, do you?
You're missing a trick.
Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and 29 muscles (19 of which are intrinsic, the other 10 are of the foot & ankle combined). There is a lot going on, and I am hoping that you can understand how important it is to have strong, healthy robust and resilient feet in order to reduce injury and also perform at your best.
The main issue is that the structural weakness and deformity of the feet is as a result of long-term negligence. For this reason, you cannot simply do a few stretches and expect to experience instant results.
The wearing of fashionable shoes and trainers wreak havoc. Long-term compression of your toes and metatarsals result in deformation and significant weakness, resulting in poor structural stability, lack of dexterity and reduced capacity to withstand and exert force.
Whilst some running shoe brands are starting to manufacture trainers with wider toe boxes, and the idea of going barefoot more popular, this alone is not the answer.
I work with gymnasts who have been training barefoot for 25+ hours per week from a very young age who still experience issues at the foot and ankle.
Long-term issues require long-term fixes.
Yep, once again there is no magic bullet, just good old habit setting, consistency and discipline.
For those whom I work with both directly and online, I provide in-depth foot and ankle work within their programmes, typically conveniently placed within warm-ups prior to sessions.
I also include frequent foot and ankle work within my online programmes
Coaches and Personal Trainers I advise can access informative and educational content on the matter within my Online Academy library
But in attempt to offer you some initial guidance so that you can start to see some improvements either in yourself or perhaps someone you work with, here are some simple tasks you should be looking to complete daily:
*Note: I have put these steps in the order in which I believe they should be conducted
1) Soft tissue work
Foam rolling the sole of your foot, ankle, calf and surrounding area will increase circulation and help reduce any soreness
2) Mobilise the structures of the feet
Open up the structures of the feet that are otherwise compressed due to the wearing of shoes and trainers
3) Improve your ankle mobility
Poor ankle range of motion is amongst one of the most common causes of back and knee trouble. It is also the most common cause for individuals not being able to squat safely and efficiently.
Using the assessment provided above, you should be looking to achieve and maintain a distance of 14cm from big toe to the wall
4) Strengthen the flexors of the foot
Now you've mobilised the structures of the foot, lets get building some robustness and function back into those contractile tissues that are otherwise lying dormant
In addition to curling your toes whilst dragging a weight across a slippery surface, also focus on spreading your toes apart
5) Strengthen your ankle both eccentrically and concentrically through range of motion
Again, do this with your toes spread apart as much as possible. I like to use a tempo of 3-5 seconds down, 1-2 seconds pause, explosive up
6) Spend less time in your shoes
Doing this alone wont solve much. However if you follow the other steps, as well as some of the more advanced strategies I use with those I work with, going barefoot in work and around the house will certainly be of benefit. After all, it is the wearing of shoes and trainers that contribute to the issue in the first place.
Unless your training session involves intense plyometrics, olympic weightlifting or running, I would even say that you should always aim to train in the barefoot too (provided your gym allows it). I recommend that you squat in a good pair of weightlifting shoes, however that doesn't mean you can't warm up in your socks.
You may get even more benefit if you also consider wearing some form of toe spacer. Doing so, in the long term, can help condition the contractile tissues of the foot to function more effectively as they're placed in a more mechanically advantageous position.
If you're interested in accessing my detailed foot and ankle work as part of a goal-specific training programme, perhaps you'd benefit from someone holding you accountable to ensure you get your training done, then click here to take a look at some of our online programmes
Alternatively, if you'd like help that is tailored to your specific needs, goals and requirements, then take a look at our bespoke coaching service that are available both in-person and online