Let’s paint a picture. Your foot is sore. Who do you blame? Your feet? Na they aren’t the reason? The ground you walk on? Maybe.. Your shoes? Yeah they seem like a good villain. When was the last time you updated them? A year ago? They are probably worn out and that fancy cushioning must have seen its last days. Time to get a new pair. Better yet get the ones that give you arch support too.
Have you ever thought much about your foot? Thought about how it works? Or thought that your foot maybe weak? Or stiff and immobile? Maybe we should work on that? Na, sounds like a lot of hard work and those new a pair of fancy shoes are a pretty cool colour and they make you feel good because it gives you what you think your aching body needs. But in those fancy shoes, your poor little feet get lazier and weaker and not too long down the track you’ll be in pain again. Maybe you should update your shoes to the latest style and colour? Or maybe, you could get strong from the foot up and learn how to move your body well.
Here is a quick anatomy lesson. Your foot anatomy by design is amazing! It contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body, pretty impressive! When considering movement, your foot can take on two main shapes - pronation and supination.
Pronation, which is where the foot flattens, elongates and the joints on the underside open and unlock, which useful for reacting to the ground and absorbing shock and impact. Supination, or high arch, where the foot shortens and the joints lock in place, great for going fast and creates a rigid lever for push off. For optimal foot health and good movement you need to be able to both pronate and supinate your foot well.
But wait isn’t pronation bad? That’s what the guy at the shoe store said? Yes it can be, but only when you are stuck in it, or don't have the ability to both pronate or supinate well. Now there is a difference between pronating well and being flat footed. Pronation is a necessary movement that we need in order to move, walk, hop, skip and jump. During our gait cycle (fancy word for walking) as we load on our leg from heel strike our center of mass progresses over our stance foot causing the joints in your foot to unlock and “fall” with gravity to the floor. So you could say pronating well is like buzz lightyear says “Falling with Style”. It is this reaction that loads the muscles ready for ‘push off’ phase, which propels you forward.
If we look at the mechanics of pronation and what influence it has up the kinetic chain we can see that it is not just an isolated foot movement, it has an impact on the whole body. Interestingly, if we focus on the hip, pronation during your gait cycle causes it to flex, adduct and internally rotate.
Even more interestingly, If we look at the action of your gluteus maximus (that big muscle on your backside that everyone has trouble activating) it extends, abducts and externally rotates the hip. Now I know what you may be thinking, that’s the complete opposite? And you would be correct! But if I introduce you to a concept that I learn from Gary Ward’s Anatomy in Motion course that I studied last year - is that in motion “muscles need to lengthen before they contract”. Using this concept the movement of pronation therefore loads the glute muscle fibers like a slingshot. If you think about a slingshot if I load it with a rock and only pull it back slightly and let go the rock will probably just drop to the ground. But if I load the rock and pull the slingshot back as hard as I can and then let go it will fly through the air at rapid speed. This type of load is what your glutes are crying out for! The gluteus maximus is the most powerful muscle in the body! Often referred to as the sprinter's muscle and for good reason it should be strong, powerful and active. But in today’s modern society we use it as a cushion for sitting on.
So when you are rolling or stretching out your tight glutes and trying all the glute activation exercises in the world to no avail, maybe give your feet a thought, because they are potentially the key to unlocking your tight hips and might be a big player in improving your performance. You don’t have to be a world class sprinter to benefit from strong glutes they will make climbing stairs easier, improve running efficiency and will help you break that squat or deadlift PR. Now I’m not saying that this will fix all your problems or that orthotics or arch support is evil and never necessary. I have used them in clinic or referred people to get custom made orthotics with very good results. But maybe it might pay dividends to explore your foot and reintroduce your body to the thing at the end of your leg. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Bayden is one of the new generation. Motivated, driven and competent. He adds youth to our ageing side and has just been awarded the VAFA trainer of the year award in 2016 (No biggie). He works as a Physio with us Mondays, Wednesdays, Friday and Sat mornings. You can book in with him here