When it comes to exercise, most people overlook two of the most important parts of their body - their feet. They train upper body, lower body, and core without even thinking to strengthen their feet.
A Strong Foot Is Important
It sounds like a weird concept to grasp, but the foot needs to be trained and maintained just like any other muscle.
If you think about it, you use your feet to stand, walk, run, and balance. They serve as your foundation and are responsible for transferring all the force from your body to the ground. When your feet are weak, the rest of your body must compensate for the job your feet can’t do.
The stronger your feet, the stronger your foundation is for everything. Not to mention, strengthening your feet will help alleviate and prevent pain throughout the rest of your body. If your training goal is to be able to move with better strength, balance, power, and control, then you must train the two things that tie it all together.
Squatting with weak feet and ankles contributes to faulty hip and knee mechanics, which indirectly affects the position of the spine. Consequently, this poor spinal alignment is often associated with low-back pain, neck impingement, shoulder injuries and inhibition/weakness of the upper extremities, which together impede hypertrophy (muscle growth), strength gains and good health.
A simple test can tell you if your feet and ankles are weak or aren’t working properly. Stand barefoot with your feet hip-width apart and have a friend take a picture of the back of your ankles. Then compare it to this picture:
If your ankles are aligned vertically, they’re in decent shape. If your foot rolls inward (pronation) or outward (supination), you have a problem.
If the mechanics of your foot are a little bit off, it can throw off the alignment of your entire body. Excessive supination of your feet can lead to:
- back and hip pain
- stress on the knee
- ankle injuries
- inflammation of the sole, called plantar fasciitis
How To Strengthen Weak Feet
Ditch Your Shoes - One of the best things you can do to strengthen your feet is to simply get them out of shoes more often. Begin slowly at first so you don’t make your feet too sore. This can be as simple as taking your shoes off when you’re inside your home.
Run In Sand - This may not be possible for those who don’t have access to a beach, but gently running in sand is a great way to increase the strength and flexibility in your feet.
If you don’t have a sandy beach nearby, you can try walking and running barefoot on grass or any soft surface in the warmer weather. A surface like grass that is soft and yields to your weight will help improve the joint articulation within your feet, while increasing range of motion and strength in the process.
Walk on Rocks - This might sound kind of crazy, but walking or even just standing and shifting your weight on smooth rocks - the type of small smooth stones people use to landscape portions of their properties - will do wonders for your feet and your entire body.
Supination & Pronation
We digress to the next issue of foot health – its mobility. You may have heard the terms; Pronation and Supination before, but let’s take a closer look to see what we are dealing with. Now, pronation and supination are both natural and desirable positions of the foot, however what WILL cause issue, is the foot travelling into unsafe ranges of these positions. Excessive supination (underpronation) and excessive pronation (overpronation) can cause problems with the body’s alignment and lead to pain in the feet, knees, hips, and back.
- Too much supination can cause problems, such as pain and soreness.
- Most people with excessive supination have structural issues in their feet.
- Ways to treat or prevent excessive supination include wearing proper shoes.
Common Causes of Excessive Supination
The structural problems of the feet causing supination are usually inherited. However, external factors can also play a role in the condition.
Genetics - Traits that affect the mechanics of the feet and legs are often inherited, such as:
- leg length (including differences between the length of the legs)
- width of the foot
Ankle stability - The shape of the foot’s arch may also increase the risk of supination, with runners with high arches being more prone to supination than other people.
Incorrect footwear - Good shoes support the arch and soft tissues of the foot, which help protect the foot from injury. This is especially true when walking on hard and flat surfaces.
The wrong type of shoe - such as rigid or tight shoes — can lead to supination and other foot problems. Also, wearing shoes that are worn out or have no arch support causes supination.
Bodily misalignment - If the body is not correctly aligned, some parts must work harder to support posture and maintain balance. Similarly, poor form when exercising can cause some muscles and bones to overcompensate, leading to supination.
Prior injury - Old injuries can cause instability and weakness in the bones and soft tissues of the body. People with achilles tendonitis, for example, are especially at risk of supination.
Other causes - Some of the other factors that can result in supination include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Constant impact on hard and firm surfaces
- Restricted range of motion
- Standing for long periods of time
- Stiffness due to aging or arthritis
- Too much exercise (RSI – repetitive strain injury)
Preventing Supination of The Foot
Good footwear - Flexible and lightweight running shoes are best for people who supinate. It can be helpful to consult a podiatrist first who can recommend the best type of shoe for supination.
Orthotics - Insoles designed for supination can support the arch and heel to control the motion of the foot. Orthotics for supination can be purchased in stores and online or can be custom-made by a podiatrist.
Physical therapy - A physical therapist can help to loosen tight muscles and tendons while strengthening these soft tissues. This assists in better weight distribution throughout the body, which corrects supination.
Your foot health is more important than you think. It needs training just like any other muscle in the body. As your feet are a constant contract point for force generation, its health still needs to be maintained as it is an origin of force production for a plethora of movements.
Although supination and pronation are a natural part of movement, too much of either motion can lead to an uneven gait and result in complications, such as pain, swelling, and misalignment.
Proper footwear, using orthotic inserts, and engaging in regular stretching can all help. Strength is easily maintained with little effort.
Including these training tips in your daily workout routines and you are on the way to having a stronger, more balanced and powerful foundation.
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