Will weak feet cause your defeat?

(Note- this article was written in 2007, long before Chris McDougall stole Bruce Springsteen’s title for the over-hyped book Born to Run).

If a tree is not firmly rooted to the ground, a strong wind will blow it over. A fence with poorly set posts is flattened easily by a strong dog. And weak feet will lead to your defeat.

Your feet are more than just a place to store your socks, they’re your connection to the ground. Strong and healthy feet make you quick, powerful, and nimble. Weak and dysfunctional feet make you slow, achy, and wobbly — and really bad at yoga. When it comes to your entire body, your feet set the tone for performance.

Most of us don’t know much about our feet, and most of us don’t want to. And that’s ok. With that in mind, I’m going to be really light on the details. Ready?

There are over 20 muscles in your feet. On top of that, about 10 muscles in your shins attach to your feet, bringing the total to more than 30. These muscles’ job descriptions include wiggling your toes, flapping your feet, pushing off from the ground, absorbing shock, and supporting your arch. Yes, there are muscles that support your arch.

The Arch: That’s where I’m going in this Special Edition of the Special Report. Your arches are supported by ligaments and muscles in your feet and shins. Or at least they should be.

Somehow, we’ve all been led to believe that our shoes should support our arches. This is true for long distance running. But it’s not true the rest of the time. By relying too much on high-tech shoes, and shoving things like orthotics in there, we’ve cheated our feet. That’s right, we’re a nation of feet-cheaters. The high tech “solutions” to foot problems actually create weak feet that cry out constantly for support.

Here’s a surprising fact: The less industrialized nations of the world have citizens with far fewer foot problems. Why? Because they actually use all of the muscles in their feet. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not indicting capitalism or the Industrial Revolution. I love America, love my TV, my internet, my refrigerator, my indoor plumbing, and cholera-free water supply. I also, however, think that the shoe industry is kind of a giant sham.

Try a little experiment, if you wouldn’t mind. Take off your shoes and go stand in front to the mirror. Now, lift your left leg up and watch your right foot on the ground. What happens? For most of you, after a few seconds, the arch will flatten out. This is usually followed by shifting your right hip to try to correct your balance. Then the hand flailing begins. Soon, you must put your left foot back down to regain your balance. It all started in the feet.

There are two muscles, the Tibialis Anterior (on the shin) and the Tibialis Posterior (deep in the calf) that should, if they’re strong, support your arch. You also have muscles in your feet that help. When they are weak, as they usually are, your balance is bad. Dancers and gymnasts usually have very strong feet, and therefore very good balance.

Try the one-foot test again. This time, make an effort to hold your arch up while you’re on one foot. (Imagine that your favorite pet bug is walking under your arch and if you let it flatten out, the bug gets squished.)

What happened? You were more stable, took longer to lose your balance, and felt a strange muscle burn deep in your arch and calf. You’re surprised. You’ve just learned something that most people never figure out: you shouldn’t rely only on shoes to support your feet.

You may be shocked. You do calf raises at the gym. Shouldn’t that strengthen the “arch support” muscles? Not if you use shoes and not if you use machines. (Warning: Most gyms will make you keep your shoes on, which is a good thing given how filthy their floors usually are).

Once again, high-tech shoes provide too much support to let you challenge your arch muscles. And most machines, calf machines in particular, do all the balancing for you. The result: a nation of feet-cheaters riddled with plantar fasciitis, chronic ankle sprains, knee problems, back pain, calf pain, etc..

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The solution: Get rid of the shoes and get away from the machines (at least a few times each week). You can strengthen your feet with the following bodyweight-only exercises in the clean comfort of your own home. Practice these exercises three times a week and you’ll be amazed at how much your balance improves and how much stronger your feet feel. You’ll notice the difference in your sports of choice. And, you’ll probably have fun.

First, some general rules: Make sure you have lots of space around you in case you fall. Move slowly and come to a full stop at the top and bottom of each rep. Start with 1 set of 3-12 reps of each exercise. If they’re all too easy, hold a weight. Apply the core contraction skills I taught you a few newsletters ago. You’ll be surprised how this helps your balance. And of course, always clear anything you ever do physically with your doctor.

Standing calf raises, 2 legs

Just like the machine version, but harder. Slowly raise all the way to your toes, and hold for a count of 5. It’s harder than you think. Yes, you may do this off the end of a step, just don’t bounce. Try the 1-leg version, too.

Start standing
Start standing
Raise up slowly and hold
Raise up slowly and hold

Back lunge

Lunge backward slowly and try to maintain your balance with the planted leg. Then slowly come back up. Remember, you’re working the foot, not just the quad.

Start standing
Start standing
Lunge back slowly
Lunge back slowly

One legged squats (Advanced)

This is a tough one. Standing on one leg, bend the knee and fold at the hip to squat down. Go until you reach the floor with your hands, but do not let the ‘flying foot’ touch down. Remember to tighten the core. Then, come back up. (You may have to tap your other foot for balance at first)

Start standing
Start standing
Bend the knee and squat down
Bend the knee and squat down

Inevitably, you’ll want to know what kind of shoes you should be wearing. If you’re a runner, get running shoes you like. You’ll want some support there, and you’ll want to consult a running pro. For working out, go low-tech. This is the time to challenge your arches. I prefer either the Converse Chuck Taylors, or Adidas Stan Smiths. (By the way, if anyone knows who Stan Smith was, please call me and tell me.)

Chuck Taylors are available in many styles, high and low, for both men and women. They even come in pink. They run a whopping $40. Remember $40 shoes? I don’t either. Wresting shoes are good, too. But they look kind of strange. Unless you’re a wrestler.

And of course, it goes without saying that years of feet-cheating may leave you with dysfunctional, scar tissue clogged muscles. This will affect how your muscles work and how they feel. Active Release Technique® is still the one and only technique that actually breaks up scar tissue. So, come on in and get fixed up.

Call 303-300-0424 today for your appointment.