Why are we talking about the foot?
There are three very important reasons why we are talking about the feet.
- They can act as a trigger and speak to the rest of our body (muscle activation).
- They support our body weight (gravity from above).
- They accept the impact of the earth below (ground reaction force from below).
Foot speaks to the body in two ways
Without delving into an overload of anatomy, your foot is made up of the bones that form your toes, your ankle, and three main arches. Considering that your skeleton is made up of 200 bones and 25 percent of them live in your feet, I would say that it is not a good idea to try and diminish the impact of what good foot health means and how it can impact the rest of your body.
These bones of the foot connect to each other to form 33 different joints which create an almost infinite number of movement combinations from the 100 or so muscles that cover the foot.
What is generally not thought about much, is how the foot tells the rest of the body what to do.
Stand up and try this little test:
- Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart.
- Clasp both hands together like you are holding a gun and rotate to your right as far as you can.
- Now take your left foot and tilt it on its side and rotate again to your right.
The takeaway: Notice that you couldn’t go as far the second time. Your foot changed and limited how much you could rotate at the torso.
While from a structural standpoint, the positioning of foot can influence our movements throughout our entire body, we have to understand the role of muscle to completely appreciate the role of our foot and movement performance. To be simple, muscle is like a rubber band and needs to be stretched out before it can be flung across the room. To fling a rubber band successfully, you pull one end away from each other. Without doing so, you can’t build up any elastic tension and there will not be a successfully recoil.
In short, our feet our important because they can give us a foundation from which muscle can be stretched out from.
Want to know what I mean, try this simple test:
- Stand up and walk around your room.
- Try to see how big of a step you can make, keeping your back heel grounded (leg that is in hip extension) with each stride you take.
- You can most certainly feel the tension that builds up in your calf and hip.
The takeaway: If there is tightness in your lower leg, the exercise prescription is to first relax the calf with a tennis or lacrosse ball, and then lengthen with stretching techniques.
Have to deal with gravity
We can’t deny a few things in life. It may have taken an apple falling from a tree to give gravity its name, but there is no force that has bigger impact on how we feel or move. Speaking of falling, I have one question to ask you before we go any further:
“Where are you taught to run to if you are in collapsing building, say, during an earthquake?”
In 1983, I was taught to run to a doorway while in elementary school. It was later explained that is the strongest part of the building. I am not an engineer, but if you look closely at the doorway you notice that it takes the shape of an arch. Not unlike the 3 arches that you will find your foot. At this point there probable isn’t much need to go a whole lot further. You are connecting the dots right now. Here is what you are thinking,
“If I am supposed to run to an arch when a building is going down, and the arch collapses I am in big trouble. That must mean if the arches in my feet go down, then I will be in big trouble too!”
Yes, you will be. The arch that most people refer to as “the arch” is called the longitudinal medial arch. It is the one on the inside part of your foot. When this arch collapses and seemingly ceases to exists, people will say that they have flat feet.
Here’s a quick little test you can do to find out which kind of arch you have:
- Wet the soles of your feet completely.
- Stand on stack of newspapers or brown bags.
- Take a look at the print and compare it to the graphic below.
The takeaway: If you have anything but a normal arch, there is a really good chance that structures above (lower leg, knee, hip, etc.) are being affected. My first recommendation is to get fitted for an orthotic. Like now! You can fix a flat foot, it just takes a long time since our feet never get a chance to rest.
If you look at the picture, you can see that your ankle follow your arches. If the arches collapse, the ankles go with. If the ankles go with, they drag the lower leg as well. If the lower leg goes, we better hope that our glutes are really strong because our knee could very be in trouble of following the ankle too.
Bring on the impact
So we know that the foot/ankle communicates with our body. We know that it is responsible for holding us but what we really need to grasp and be utmost concerned with is how our foot/ankle deals with impact. At this point, lets try to sum up the basic actions of the foot.
So basically when our foot hits the ground our toes are supposed to roll across the surface. When the big makes contact and tenses up, this is like a trigger going off to tighten up the arch and create an anchor for the achiles tendon which attaches to the muscles of the lower leg (calf, soleus). The ankle is supposed to bend (this is called dorsiflexion) and the calf muscle lengthens.
It is this lengthening action that slows down the knee as we walk, jog, and run. If the calf can’t slow the knee down, then the brain is going to have ask another group of muscles to do so. I have said this before, but this is a birthplace for compensation.
Crossfit is a functional sport largely because the movements use mimic skills we need to succeed in life. We are constantly lifting, pushing and pulling against the forces of gravity to survive day in and day out. We also have to deal with gravity and ground reaction forces. If our feet aren’t working real well, then we are just setting ourselves up for some problems.