As a 20-year veteran in the fitness and wellness industry, I’ve learned there are two body parts that are responsible for the greatest success and the longest recovery of all. Our bodies are not made of disparate body parts functioning in isolation. Rather we are all one part where the players act together in unison to help us move throughout our days.
Here we discussed how hands play a significant role in our workouts. Now, let’s chat about an equally important (if not more) yet often neglected body part that can make or break your fitness. This part of our body has 25 bones and 107 ligaments, and over 100 muscles and tendons. Our feet!
By the time we enter our 40s and 50s, our feet have already sustained considerable wear and tear. Caring for them now is tantamount to an effective fitness program and simply living pain-free.
Did you know…
- 25% of our bones in our bodies are in our ankles and feet
- The feet are responsible for “setting up” the (kinetic) chain of events that occur every second the feet are in contact with the floor.
- 7,000 nerve endings on each foot make them the most sensory receptive part of our body. Think about how those thick running shoes prevent our brain from really feeling the ground underneath us.
Foot pain affects women more than men, ranking among the top 20 reasons for doctor visits among those over age 65, per a 2018 study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.
Our feet are the foundation of our bodies. They initiate the chain of “events” that occur every time they are in contact with the ground. Each “event” (or step) that occurs with our feet on the ground depends on proper “footing.”
For example, when we “pronate,” or lean toward the inside edges of our feet, or when we supinate, lean toward the outside of our feet, every part of our body responds all the way up to the top of our head. When the foundation is off, the rest goes awry.
I liken our bodies to a chain that has links. When those links are weak, ill-shaped, and go unaddressed, it can lead to a multitude of aches and pains. If, in this case, it is the feet, so often that pain is followed by doctor’s visits, chiropractor adjustments, Physical Therapy manipulations, acupuncture, massage, and yes, orthopedic doctors’ offices for a 15-minute conversation about how you need surgery. It can be very costly to have a weakness.
Now, let’s talk about the top five reasons our feet play such an important role in our fitness. Many of these reasons apply to your hands as well.
1. Our feet provide support and connection. Our feet support our body and are the primary source of contact between our body and the ground. From a squat or deadlift to a vertical jump or side shuffle, the movement starts with your feet!
2. Foot placement and gait are key. When we set up for a squat, deadlift, or even frankly a downward-facing dog, where and how we place our feet (narrow, wide, evenly/parallel, the degree to which our toes are tucked) will influence the muscles we’ll engage and the tension we’ll utilize when we do. “Setting up” our position for a strong round means we’ll work the muscles intended to engage. We may want to vary the width of our feet in any foot-centric setup. Our feet also significantly affect our gait. When we walk and run, proper foot placement is key to ensure we are moving correctly, efficiently, and not risking injury.
3. Foot mobility, flexibility, and strength improve our form and the efficiency of our movements. The more flexibility, mobility, and strength in our feet, the deeper we’ll get in our lunge, the heavier we’ll be able to lift in our squat, the further we’ll run, and the greater range of motion of our downward facing dog. As a former Hill staffer who wore heels daily on marble floors, I have had my fair share of foot pain and challenges. Yet, with a focus on strengthening and gaining mobility, my movements are more efficient, and my running form has improved. TIP: Towel grabs strengthen your feet. Use the toes to pick up a towel off the floor. This is NOT easy, yet so good for you!
4. Our feet help us create tension. When we actively push our feet into (or “grip”) the floor as we lift a heavy object, we are creating greater tension and requiring greater muscle engagement throughout our body.
5. Training barefoot = greater success and strength. Going barefoot is how we are intended to move. Our ancestors didn’t have insoles and inserts to help them move about. They walked long distances on bare feet. They didn’t have bunions, knee, back, and the plethora of issues we hear about daily. The foot gets stronger with tactile response and input from the Earth. When challenged with grass, concrete, cobblestone, or uneven terrain, we provide the foot with an environment that can improve its versatility and strength. When we strength train barefoot, our balance improves, we are better able to actively use our feet to improve form and increase muscle engagement, and ultimately, we can achieve greater strength.