How can I select the best athletic shoes and improve my stability during my fitness program?By
We can sometimes neglect to appreciate our feet and realize how important they are.
Think about it − our feet move us from one place to the next, whether by walking, running, or sprinting. We stand in line or in place at social events, and our feet can even help us earn a living by taking us where we need to go.
However, wear and tear can take its toll on our feet. During our 40s and 50s (and sometimes even before), our feet begin to look nothing like they did when we were children; functional restriction comes as a result of not only neglecting our muscles and tendons but also through incorrect shoe wear.
What do functional feet look like, and what makes them work?
Compare the two pictures above of a barefoot walker and the foot of someone whose feet have become conformed as a result of years of wearing tight shoes.
What is the difference?
The first image reveals a spreading of the toes; notice the gaps between the phalanxes. This is the foot of someone who has not worn shoes throughout his/her life.
The second image tells a story of a foot of someone who has worn shoes every day over a lifetime. Hence, the foot is molded to the shape of a shoe.
Upon closer look at the first image, we also can see that the foot forms a tripod.
What is a tripod?
A tripod is a support system among the calcaneus, the sesamoid points, and the 5th metatarsophalangeal joint. When you connect these points, one sees a pyramid formation. This pyramid formation provides our foot tripod, which has many benefits for functional body posture.
Your tripod is developed even before you learn to walk. The next time you see a baby, pay attention to his or her foot mechanics. Even before the baby walks, the foot provides a perfect tripod position and fantastic control over the toes, such as gripping and opening of the toes. The foot of a baby more closely resembles the foot shown in the first image above.
When this tripod is not developed correctly or we have changed our foot structure through years of wearing shoes that we squeeze our feet into, we can develop gripping response, which can result in pain in the hips and neck or overall stiffness and instability.
A functional tripod for efficient movement and stability
When your phalanxes are spread open and you stand on one leg or perform a lunge or squats, this tripod can create stability through the medial and lateral lower extremity kinetic chain.
The lateral kinetic chain is connected to the 5th phalanx. The following are the muscles that can be activated through the correct foundation of the little toe:
- Lateral tibia muscle group
- Gluteus min
- Vastus laterals
- Latisimus and hamstring
- Superficial maximus
Specific muscles activated are as follows:
- Quatratus plantae
- Peroneus (fibularis) longus
- Vastus lateralis
- Tensior fasciae latae
- Gluteus maximus iliac fibers
- Gluteus medius
The medial kinetic chain is connected to the 1st phalanx. Here are the muscle groups that can be activated by correct activation of the big toe:
- Medial stabilization chain
- Medial tibial muscle group
- Medial hamstring and adductors
- Medial gluteus maximus
- Abductor hallucis
- Flexor hallucis brevis
- Flexor hallucis longus
- Tibialis posterior
- Vastus medialis
- Adductor external and internal
- Gluteus maximus coocyeal and sacral fibers
Analyze your own feet
Compare your own feet with the picture of that of the barefoot walker. How does it compare? Is it narrower? Does your big toe point up instead of down? Is there no space between your toes? Does your big toe splay away from the midline? Do you have additional bone growth to create a sixth toe for stability (bunion)?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, start thinking about your foot as a complete separate entity. It is composed of many bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles that together affect your foot function.
When facing faulty body posture, there are corrective exercises you can do; the same is true of your foot function.
Muscles that are over elongated need to be activated and shortened. Muscles that have become weak need to be strengthened.
The goal objective is to create a functioning foot that enables us to restore control for stability and activate the lateral and medial stabilization chain before we address an overall movement method.
What can you do right now to restore your foot function?
Massage the following three points:
1) Right and left sides of the sesamoid points
2) Intersection of the flexor digitorum longus and plantar fascia
3) Medial attachment of the planter fascia by the calcanues
Perform the following exercises to elongate key points:
1) Grab the big toe and elongate it. Move it into alignment with your medial line of your foot
2) Do the same with the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd phalanxes.
Activate muscle control through the following exercises:
1) Sit on a chair and lift up your toes while staying connected with your tripod.
2) Start with the small toe. Lower each toe down to the floor while you try to create space between your toes. You might want to give your muscles a hand as you regain your muscle control.
3) Repeat 3 to 4 times before doing the same on the other side.
4) Take a book and place your foot on top so that the ball of the foot and little toe are right on the ridge.
5) Lift up the toes and, toe by toe, starting with the little toe, elongate the toe over the ridge toward the floor. Do NOT grip with the toes; elongate them.
6) Repeat 3 times and do the same on the other side.
These are exercises you can do right now to establish a better tripod position. When you start to feel more control, implement the position of the tripod during your exercise program.
Fitness shoes, or any shoe for that matter, should be selected with your tripod in mind. I recommend first improving your tripod and stabilizing the foot system before you buy better shoes that enable you to maintain your tripod for efficient movement and stability.
Shoes that encourage a proper tripod position can be found at the following sites:
All three of those types of shoes are designed to facilitate the development of a natural wide foot for stability.
And here is to good foot health.
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P.P.P.S.: More on this topic can be found in this article: Lose Your Shoes? Is Barefoot Better?
Stefan Aschan, M.Sc,
Integrative Movement Specialist, ACE-CPT, Naturopath, Natural Weight Loss Expert
New York Integrative Movement Specialists
Founder of Strength123, Inc. and Strength 123 & Associates