Guest post written by: Kate Galliet
Low-inflammation diet? Check. Plenty of good sleep? Check. A good probiotic & digestive enzyme source? Check. And so on down the checklist of ‘stuff you learned from sites like this one to help you gain health & reduce disease-risk.’
We have a similar checklist for ‘stuff you need to do to gain & maintain high-quality movement’, and as a coach, all too often, I see clients with things half-way checked off, not checked off at all, or really good things that aren’t even on the checklist but that should be.
As I noted in my last post about how I work with my clients to build them an unbreakable body, one that has gorgeous movement-quality, and is free from aches & pains, I noted that I look at them through a different fitness lens – one that puts body durability, mobility, and foundational strength in each of 6 key pillars of the body at the forefront.
The 6-pillars are simply a way to look at your body and ensure you have critical areas for movement quality locked down. Mobility & strength work can get complex really quickly if you let it – analysis paralysis can take down the best of us. If you use this 6-pillars model, much like if you follow Robb’s basic guidelines for diet & lifestyle, it gets pretty easy pretty quickly.
To review, the 6 pillars are:
- strong feet
- strong glutes
- hip stability
- strong core
- postural strength
- scapular stability
Today, I’m going to dive into the first (and if I had to choose favorites…this one is in my top 2) pillar that majority of folks are not paying enough attention to. Strong feet.
Why Does Foot Strength & Function Matter?
In your workouts, you probably pay attention to your legs, and your arms, and your back, etc. What are you doing about the part of your body that holds all of that up? Your lower leg, ankle, and foot are the very bottom of the house you stand on. I know some folks think that how your feet move aren’t too big of a deal, but I’d like to offer a different viewpoint.
We know that having good muscle tone in our back, arms, and legs helps our bodies to move well. We know we need to exercise our bodies to fight against the non-movement that happens for most of our modern-lifestyle days. Why would your lower leg, ankle, and foot be any different?
Muscles support the skeleton. They are the suspenders that hold you up and help you stay tall when gravity (and over-the-shoulder bags, and small children hanging on you) are trying to pull you down.
You can fix your feet which can fix issues going on upstream of your feet. I have countless examples from clients, but today I’ll use myself as an example: I had chronic right side problems, and had a fairly flat arch in my right foot. I started working on building strong feet and in 6 months saw my arch return and have tone in it.
In addition, my shoe size shrunk a ½ size in those 6 months. This shouldn’t surprise you – muscle gives shape. Not only because muscle tone changes the way the muscles sit, but also because muscles are attached to bones via tendons, and if you change the way a muscle sits, you change the way the bone is positioned.
(Oh, and all of the right side aches & injuries disappeared over time as well.)
Unbreakable Feet, Unbreakable Foundation
Let’s dive into why having strong feet that are unbreakable (which means you have mobility where appropriate, you have stability where appropriate, and your ankle and lower leg are strong and function as your skeleton was built for) makes the rest of your body also more unbreakable.
When arches drop and ankles cave in, the tibia & fibula no longer are stacked over the foot, instead leaning in at the bottom. The knee will internally rotate, and in time, this can make your glute activation go down the toilet.
Part of the glutes job is to keep the femurs externally rotated and the knees heading in the forward direction. It gets harder and harder to do that when the knees keep turning in because the guys down below (the arches & ankles) aren’t holding the structure up.
There are numerous things that can be done to bring foot mobility and strength back, but the first and easiest to discuss are foot position and fine motor control of the toes.
You can do all the strength drills you want but if you allow sub-awesome body positions during your daily life, and your foot still functions like a mitten instead of a glove, you’re still going to be in the hole.
Two Drills To Start Fixing Your Feet
In the video below I show two simple things you can do to start fixing your feet.
The first item addresses foot position. When you stand with your feet turned out, even slightly, as most folks do, you will also start to walk with your feet turned slightly out. Did you know kids learn how to walk partly by watching those around them walk? You’re doing yourself and the next gen a favor by fixing this up now.
Standing with feet turned out means the tripod that is your great toe ball joint, your ball joint on the outer edge of your foot, and your heel now is off-center. You’ll need to shift your hips forward to re-balance the weight distribution of your body.
When are hips start shifting forward, we start doing silly things like constantly flexing our quads to keep from tipping forward, arching our back to bring ourselves back to the original center of mass, and start relaxing our glutes which will eventually turn into disharmony between glutes, psoas, and everybody else making up the hip complex.
But wait! There’s more! When you turn your feet out, even slightly, your weight leans inward toward the inside of your ankle, contributing to arch collapse; in addition, when the main arch (there are actually 3 arches in your foot, not just 1) collapses, you’ll put your plantar fascia under greater load because it will begin to do the support work that the arches would be doing in a healthy foot.
The plantar fascia acts like a tie-rod. But it isn’t designed to be the only thing holding up a large % of your body’s weight. Plantar fasciitis was only a runners’ injury back in the day. High mileage, too much mileage too fast, and sub-optimal foot striking were common causes of this injury. These days, office workers everywhere who have never been a runner are being afflicted.
Your muscles are suspenders that hold up your skeleton. When your suspenders are broken, your skeleton (and all the body mass that’s on it), don’t get held up very well. And -itis injuries like plantar fasciitis become injuries simply from daily life.
The second item in the video digs into your fine motor control. You might be thinking, “but I’m not a dancer! I don’t need fine motor control!” Yeah, no, you do. Your brain is making an obscene amount of calculations every moment, via the signals your foot is sending about your location in space.
Here’s another analogy for you. You know when you wear mittens it’s almost like your hands don’t work anymore? Seriously, try to do something like separate your keys to get the one you want out and ready to put into the door lock while wearing mittens. Compare that to the ease of doing the same task while wearing gloves.
There are so many possible ways to move and articulate the bones and joints of your foot, toes, and ankle that you need an exponential equation to express it. Most folks I have worked with in the last 12 years were wearing mittens on their feet when they first began working with me and building strong feet (not actual mittens obviously…you’re still with me on the mittens/gloves thing yeah? good.)
What seemed impossible at first became do-able in time, and eventually led to similar results to what I’ve achieved in my own feet. I’d like your feet not to hurt or get injured. I’d also like your knees not to hurt and I’d enjoy seeing you do sports and daily life without low back pain.
The way your foot moves affects all of that. So watch the quick video and then get to work trying the two drills I present there and let me know as you start practicing them…does it feel weird? impossible? easy? Your feet matter! Don’t leave them behind!