The Forgotten Foot–Part 4
Anyone who has spent any time thinking about improving their fitness or body composition has probably considered specific body parts or movement patterns that they would like to improve or change. One area that never gets much attention is the foot. Nobody ever talks about wanting to strengthen, improve mobility/stability, or address function in any other manner when it comes to the foot. This is unfortunate as the foot is arguably one of the most important players when it comes to overall health and function. There are between 100,000-2000,000 sensory receptors in the bottom of your foot. This is 3rd only to the mouth and hands. Dr. Emily Splichal DPM uses this fact to draw attention to the importance of training the foot and giving it the sensory input it needs in order for everything else above the foot (knees, hips, spine, etc.) to work and function properly. Many of us now have rather sedentary lifestyles where find ourselves on our feet for about 1-2 hours per day. Our footwear tends to be more along the lines of what strength coach Chris Duffin refers to as “foot coffins”. Typical shoes worn in our society push our toes together, elevate our heel, and give very little sensory input to the sole of the foot. These things all greatly hinder our foot’s ability to function the way it was designed to and to communicate important input further up the kinetic chain. Rarely would a good Physical Therapist or Strength Coach advise permanently bracing or supporting a knee, elbow, or shoulder as a long-term solution to an injury or dysfunction. Instead, they would get a health history, assess the involved joints and movement patterns, and then put together a plan of action to correct the dysfunction or discomfort. However, when it comes to the foot, many podiatrists recommending orthotics or more supportive shoes. While there may be some very limited situations that call for this, I don’t think it makes sense to permanently brace/cast your foot, and limit/eliminate sensory input in hopes of improving function. When it comes to optimizing the foot and therefore the rest of the human body’s function, there are four main things to consider: Footwear, Soft Tissue work, Training, and Programming. Over the next few weeks, I will address all of these.
A big problem with barefoot or minimalist training is that a lot of people jump the gun and go from supportive, restrictive footwear to being barefoot 24/7. This leads to overtraining and injury in most cases. The makers of the Vibram shoe (the toe shoes) actually had some lawsuits against them from the amount of injuries people incurred while wearing their shoes. The barefoot craze had erupted, people bought the “toe shoes”, threw out their old running shoes, and took off with high mileage runs in their new shoes. Imagine you had no training background or experience and on your first day in the gym, I asked you to do 10 sets of 10 squats with a challenging load. This would lead to extreme soreness in even the most seasoned gym vet, let alone somebody brand new to training. That is essentially what you are doing to your feet when you alter your footwear drastically, especially when it comes to things like running. Here are some sensible ways to look at transitioning your footwear.
Standing/light walking: Implement your new footwear 20% of the time. For an eight hour work day, that would equate to about 1.5 hours. Assuming things feel good, add about 10% (45 minutes for an eight hour work day) longer each week until you are fully transitioned.
Hiking/Jogging: Implement your new footwear for 10% of your daily or weekly mileage or time. If things feel good, then increase by 10% every two weeks. If you are running in this style of footwear, realize that some faulty running mechanics may be exposed. If this is the case, your running is likely not great for your body in the first place. You will either want to enlist the help of a qualified running coach or find a different mode of exercise.
Strength Training/Conditioning: If lifting barefoot, refrain from Dumbbell or KettleBell lifts that can easily be dropped on your foot. Start by transitioning for the first 25% of your workout, or pick one workout day each week to transition. If things feel good, then you can go half of your workout or workout days. High volumes of jumps and sprints will likely not be tolerated well. Keep sprints or jumps lower in volume and pay attention to how your feet feel while doing them. For higher volumes of jumps and sprints or sport, shoes designed for that specifically should be used.
After gradual implementation of soft tissue work, footwear, and training a weekly overview incorporating everything should look something like this:
Footwear: Barefoot (when appropriate) or minimalist style footwear worn 50-75% of the time.
Soft Tissue work: 3-10 minutes, 2-6 days per week
Training: Foot specific exercises 1-2 sets or 5 reps done 2-4 days per week
Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1