STRENGTHENING YOUR FEET
So you’ve seen some toe yoga videos, and read something about the benefits of foot exercises. You decide it might be wise to gain some more control of your feet. Let’s try to look at how you might do that and why. Simply put, the amount that your foot moves, or doesn't move, has repercussions on how the rest of your body moves.
Your foot is where it all begins. It’s the first thing to hit the ground when you’re walking or running. It is where you initiate loading your proverbial spring. At heel strike, if all is going well, your foot will start on the outside heel(externally rotated, or supinated) and slowly rotate internally(pronation). This continuum of external to internal rotation happens at each joint up your leg, ideally at a similar rate and range. This internal rotation is stretching and loading the tissue or spring that creates the potential energy that will propel your body forward.
The foot also holds a quarter of the bones of the body, comprising 33 joints. With this high concentration of joints, solely working on the foot can create impact up the line. Doing an exercise(video below) of standing on one foot and rotating your body over your foot and then rotating in and going up on to your toes can effect 33 possible joints. That’s a lot of possible opportunities to load the power source, your spring.
Getting the foot mobile and strong is important as well to increase the prehensile quality of your foot. When you are maneuvering on rocky or uneven surfaces it is much easier if you are able to grip and move the different parts of your foot independently. You have a much better chance of staying upright on a precarious rock if you can “wrap” your foot around it. If your foot is a board, immobile like a plank, it’s more likely you’ll end up on your butt.
Let’s start with a basic exercise, which entails simply rotating your foot internally and externally and see how much you can differentiate the 3 parts of your foot. You can then do some simple toe raises to see if you can load the toe up through the first ray going straight up on to your big toe. We’ll go into the importance of your big toe after looking at some videos.
After this you can move on to some other basic dexterity moves that you should be able to accomplish with your feet. Many of you may find these difficult so I will show you some optional routes to get you to your final destination of enhanced mastery of your feet.
In this last video I show the effect different leg positions have on toe extension.
Why does toe extension matter in this last video? The ability to bring your big toe up creates a bowing effect in the arch of your foot, fancily termed the windlass mechanism. The tissue in the arch(mostly plantar fascia) is like the string of the bow. The ball and heel of your feet are like the ends of the bow. When the toe goes into extension it is like pulling on the string of the bow. The better you are at pulling that bow back(flexing that toe) the better you can load the spring, or bow of your foot, so the arrow goes faster and farther. That more powerful arrow equates to increased explosive power in your push off in gait.
My favorite section: IT DEPENDS.
People move in a million different ways. Can people be injury, and pain free moving in a different way than described above? For sure. This is a description of an optimal pattern of movement for enhanced biomechanical efficiency. But if you’re a supinating, midfoot striking, bow-legged, pain free, 6 minute miler beast. Keep on trucking. It simply means you have trained your body to work in those parameters and excel. You have learned to create efficiency without ideal biomechanics.
But in an ideal world you want to find the most efficient way to move with your anatomy. So working on these foot mechanics will help aid in increasing your efficiency and ultimately the longevity of your joints, and body as a whole. If you are an athlete you especially want to find the most efficient way to move in order to use up the least amount of energy. The ideal situation is at the end of the race you have some reserve left in the tank to get you to the finish line before the next guy or gal.