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“Well, you are just a bit out of balance” she smiles at me, standing in front of me, upright. Then the hovers her hands above my shoulders and smiles once more “you see, this shoulder is dipping. You are a bit tilting, like the tower of Pisa”.
That was probably the first time someone pointed out I was not the straightest pea in the pod. Postural stability is a practise that sitting down, hunching on our phones, carrying heavy bags can seriously compromise.
As I was practising front squats with my coach, he looked at me quite perplexed.
“There is something wrong, can you see it?”
Yes, yes I can! “I can see it, but I don’t know why. I look (and feel) out of balance when doing heavy squats”.
“Well, have a closer look”. So here I go, checking in a few more reps. Still, quite clueless – which annoys me dearly, when there is something wrong and cannot place it (the Virgo is strong in this one).
Anyways, I know the suspense is killing you. It was my left foot. That lil’ cheeky bastard. Basically, we all have a natural arch in our feet, which are formed by bones, strengthened by ligaments and tendons. They need to be quite strong as they allow the foot to support the weight of the body in the erect posture with the least weight.
Basically, my left foot is weak and needs a lot of TLC – so much so that is affecting my stability, posture, and overall performance. More broadly speaking, strong and flexible feet, ankles, and calves provide our base for stable movement, and are essential for performing our daily activities without pain or strain.
This made me wonder: what’s the deal with our feet?
Did you know that nearly 25% of the bones and muscles in your body are below the ankle?
Plus, the ankle is the most overlooked joint next to the wrist in terms of athletic performance, flexibility, and injury prevention. As I said in the title of this post, your feet ARE your foundation.
Our calves point the foot down, giving us the power to rise up on our toes (think running and jumping). But even with the foot flat on the ground, our calves provide stability in squatting, lunging, and other big movements.
The calf muscles are a very dense muscle group because we use them constantly – even just in standing and walking. And the ankle joints, because of the lack of variety of motion throughout the day, tend to be quite stiff.
We were not born with a pair of Nike at our feet – and people before us managed to sprint, walk, climb and run barefoot.
Our feet are essential to absorb force as they are designed to grab the ground and assume the surface they’re walking on – plus our ankles help shift and stabilise weight for movements.
In my case, the main issue is the left foot arch – resulting in a weak foot. Normally, muscle tension holds your arches up and your foot bones together, and counterintuitively, the more the arch is to supporting, the stronger it gets. Basically, our shoes (and posture, to name a few) can weaken our arches as, well, our arches are not really working).
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. With improved mobility and strength, the arches can correct themselves over time.
Shall I throw my shoes away?
I am not suggesting a shoe-burning party in the moonlight – howevr, on the long run shoes change the form and function of the foot, especially by constricting the foot and narrowing the surface on which the foot is standing. To be a bit extreme, shoes with an arch support are essentially giving permission to your arches get stiff and stop supporting.
I am not recommending everyone to go and buy barefoot shoes – even if I did own a pair, and I find them stupidly comfortable – but, finding the right pair of shoes is a life saver for your training.
Are you looking to brace more efficiently, and balance through your sides organically?
After a consultation, I do tend to recommend foot mobility exercises an average of to 7 out of 10 people who come to me.
How to get in touch with your foundation
- Go Barefoot When Possible – In your home, in the park, when stretching or doing a mobility workout. Walking barefoot outdoors is actually quite grounding, and extremely relaxing. Plus I usually indulge in some Animal Flow barefoot.
- Work on ankle dorsi-flexion and extension – if a person lacks the ability to achieve full ankle dorsiflexion then their toes may be at risk for excessive pressure. A few quick tests can be carried out to assess your ankle mobility (full link for reference and video resources below)
- Improve Foot Mobility – Point and flex at full ranges (toes & ankles). Spread your toes and rotate your ankles. I am sharing a few of my favourite ankle and foot exercises below.
A Few simple Ways to Increase Foot Strength
- Roll a ball on your arches – tennis ball = foam roller for your feet. There are some quite handy examples here:
- Skipping – I bang on about this a lot, but skipping is not just great for cardio, but it’s also your calves’ bestie.
- Walk on the beach – for someone who really loves being in the sun like me, this is the ultimate treat. Grab the sand with your toes, spread them wide, and massage your feet.
- Seated stretch – Seated stretch can be done toes under and toes pointed. The toes pointed one is extremely unpleasant for my left foot, which says a lot about what I need to work on, I know.
- Calf Raises – A classic and effective exercise is using a step or sturdy block for your foot so you can drop your heel down to stretch. This will stretch the calves and also tackle your ankles.
- Ankle rotation – simple, easy, actually weirdly uncomfortable. I get down to my own warmup routine for 4/6 minutes and it involves 90 seconds of ankle rotation.
References & Resources
- Fix Your Squat: Part 1 – Ankle Mobility for Squatting w/ Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University VIDEO
- Tight ankles | Feat. Kelly Starrett | MobilityWOD VIDEO
- #1 Best Calf Stretch To Relieve Tightness VIDEO
- Pain In Arch Of Foot: Plantar Fasciitis Treatment – Tennis Ball Massage VIDEO
- Reliability of Three Measures of Ankle Dorsiflexion Range of Motion PAPER
- Flat Feet, Collapsed Arches Mobility WOD ARTICLE