Foot Facts and Exercises for Athletes
Although it is the most neglected workout of all, foot and ankle training is critical for athletes. This is because most athletic activation starts with the feet and having weak feet could mean that an athlete will not perform at his best or that he will be prone to injuries. With well-trained feet, athletes can ultimately open doors in maximizing their strength, speed, power, mobility, force, explosiveness, and agility.
The Importance of Proper Footwear
Unfortunately, most athletes, the elite included, have multiple deficiencies in their feet and ankles. This is due to using bad footwear on and off the field (or court, field, pitch, etc.). These bad products often market themselves to be the latest in footwear research but, in reality, they contribute to feet and ankle muscles shutting down. This is dangerous most especially in sports. It is important to use good footwear like the Minal brand which offers comfortable step-in slippers for athletes when they need to rest their feet.
The Importance of Foot and Ankle Exercise
When a foot remains semi-dormant, meaning it is untrained, the foot will decrease in size and strength. The body, wanting to be efficient, will compensate for and reprogram its distribution of energy based on the lack of activity in your feet. It does this to protect you from injuries. However, this also affects the lower body negatively since your hips and core do not have a stable foundation. This negative effect can also influence the upper torso.
While it has been established that strong feet are needed to move properly, strong muscles are also useful for absorbing force. This means that when the muscles are not trained, the feet become incapable of withstanding large amounts of force. Aside from not being able to be as fast, agile, and strong, the force that the feet can’t absorb transfer to the joints, tendons, ligaments, and tissues – basically the entire kinetic chain. Thus, when one has weak feet, injuries can happen from head to toe.
Now that the importance of feet exercise is discussed, there are facts about the ankle and feet that one must know in relation to this.
These are the following:
- Toes, feet, and ankles are trained just like any other part of the body. Some even argue that more training is required for these, especially for people that wear constricting shoes.
- In order to tell if one’s feet are healthy, he must be able to do a majority of activities barefoot or in minimalist footwear (such as step-in slippers) without complications. These include training and working out
- One will know if the feet and ankles are dysfunctional if they cannot provide minimal support for any activity. Although the body parts may look fine, if it doesn’t feel fine, then it isn’t.
- Even the most athletic people will greatly benefit from correcting and fixing foot and ankle deficiencies.
- While corrective exercises such as foam rolling are great, nothing will beat affixing foot and ankle deficiencies when it comes to improving technique and movement.
- Many lower body injuries and tweaks are due to a weak and faulty angle and foot mechanics.
- In most activities, the feet is the first instance of movement. This means that it is also the first to transmit force. Having dysfunctional feet means that not much force will turn into actual action because the energy “leaks” from the foot. This can be avoided by learning how to stabilize the feet and ankles.
- Squatting properly is impossible with faulty feet and ankle mechanics. If one cannot squat properly, then a big number of strength training lifts will be unsafe for him to perform.
- Good posture and core strength go hand in hand with being able to activate the feet and ankles properly.
- Ankle and foot exercises also use the core and other stabilizers heavily.
- Foot and ankle dysfunction accelerates with age which contributes to age related deficiencies in spinal alignment and posture.
- Being highly active in sports or in working out doesn’t necessarily mean that one has good feet and ankles. What it does mean is that this person is more susceptible to injuries if he doesn’t have a good training in those body parts.
- One of the most painful and serious injuries that one can get in sports is ruptured Achilles tendons. Although this is mostly considered to happen by chance, this and other similar debilitating injuries can be avoided with a good foot and ankle training.
- Shin splints, pain that is felt at the front of the lower leg, is caused by a weak and dysfunctional feet and ankles.
- Proper training can address even the most severe foot and ankle issues.
- Being able to use feet on a regular basis for everyday tasks doesn’t mean that one has properly functioning feet.
- Competitive athletes spend a significant amount of training time, about half or more, doing practice and skill work in bare feet or with a minimal footwear to train their feet. Examples of such athletes include those that play football, baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, and track & field.
- Barefoot training must not be done too fast and too soon to avoid injuries. This is because most people live their whole lives wearing shoes and their bodies have already adapted to it. The transition must be gradual. Eventually the body and feet will readjust to this.
- Most orthotics were made to help live with foot and ankle deficiencies but were not made to correct them permanently.
- Toe spacers and yoga toes are good investments for those with overlapping toes or ones that are too close to each other. These will help them to stretch the toes into the proper and most efficient placement.
- Walking around the house barefoot or with Minal step-in slippers helps with the correcting mechanics.
- Many injuries that athletes suffer from are due to improper foot training.
- The saying “less is more” is true for the feet. With less support in shoes, the more foot muscles will have to work.
- Calf training, while it is great for body building, must always be paired with foot training. A bigger calf will need a stronger foot to support it.
- Proper foot and ankle training starts by understanding that the foot has “three points of contact”. This is a rule that states that the feet must be hit at three key points to be efficiently used. These are:
- The heel
- The lateral upper portion, which are the balls of the feet
- The part near the middle of the foot which is nearer to the big toe
- There are two main classes of foot and ankle dysfunction, which are the following:
- Pronation: More stress is present in the inner foot. This is the more problematic of the two and places athletes in a higher risk of injury.
- Supination: More stress is present in the outer foot.
- For both classifications of foot and ankle dysfunctions, proper training is the cure which will be discussed next.
The Cure: Proper Foot and Ankle Training
- Ankle Pushouts
- Single-Leg Stands
- Inline Toe-Touch Stride Hold
- BOSU Single-Leg Stands
- Single-Leg Swap
- Single-Leg Power Hold
- Single-Leg Med Ball Chest Pass
- Lunge or Single-Leg Stand Perturbations
Pronation is the most common type of foot dysfunction in athletes and this is evident when the ankle cave is inward. It is important to correct this so as to prevent stress to be transferred to the knees, hips, ankles, and lower back. This workout will forcefully drive the ankles outward while keeping the toes in contact with the ground.
Once pronation has been addressed, one can perform balance and stability exercises. Most of these exercises involve single leg stands.
To properly do a single leg stand, one must first make sure that the feet and toes are facing forward and are straight. Then the raised leg must hover a bit by holding it forward while keeping the leg, hips, back, head, and shoulders straight and square. Once an individual can do this with his eyes open for 30 seconds on a hard surface, he can move to a soft surface such as a mat. This will force the standing foot to work more. Lastly, an even more unstable surface can be used for more training. Then the whole process can be repeated but with eyes closed to practice balance even further.
An overhead position can be the ultimate test of this exercise which basically is a single leg stand with the hand up in the air forming a Y shape with the whole body. If one can do this with his eyes closed, then he has a really good foot and ankle activation.
Some athletes may find the single-leg stand too difficult if they or their trainers are very strict with keeping the proper form (which they should be). For these athletes, they can do an inline toe-touch stride hold instead. In this exercise, both feet are planted on the floor with one stacked on the other. This makes it slightly easier to balance while still providing enough activation for the feet and ankles. Doing this with eyes closed is still quite challenging.
When an athlete has mastered the single leg stand, he may up his game by trying it while standing on a BOSU ball. This a stability ball designed to challenge the balance of those who use it.
This is a great work out for people with either pronation or supination to cure their weaknesses. The single leg swap is the most effective exercise one can do to his foot and ankle stability. Basically, it is a single-leg stand while holding a kettlebell and swapping it from hand to hand. The kettlebell begins at the same hand in which the planted foot is. Then, while keeping the foot planted and the core tight, the bell will be transferred from one side to the other. This makes a sudden shift in weight and balance.
In doing this, pronation is fought because the sudden shift in balance to the side opposite of the planted foot causes the foot to use the muscles that are overworked in supination. The opposite happens when it is swapped back to the same side of the planted foot – the muscles overworked in pronation are used. This way, all the foot muscles are used and nothing gets worked too much.
Additionally, it is also a great core exercise because it involves the resistance of rotation and flexion of the spine.
Basically, this is a weighted single-leg stand. This is done by lifting a barbell on the shoulder as one would for a barbell squat then performing a single-leg squat. The force that the extra weight puts on the foot and ankle muscles will overload it – which is a great way to make your feet strong and stable.
Performing a chest pass with another person while performing a single-leg stand can help both persons to further fight pronation. This is because the force needed to catch the ball forces the ankle outward.
Perturbation exercises, in general, are a good exercise to force people to stabilize their movements because this type of training involves a partner moving a person in an unpredictable fashion. When this is applied to the single-leg stands and lunges, the dormant foot and ankle muscles begin to work in unfamiliar ways.
In order to prevent further injury and impede one’s best athletic potential, training must be applied to the feet and ankles to get the best foundation. Once this is achieved, an athlete may do his regular training and techniques more efficiently and he can perform at his best.
In addition, proper footwear must always be used. Most shoes and slippers have been marketed as the latest in shoe technology but, in reality, make the foot lazy to work. This is not the case for Minal’s step-in slippers, which provide just the right amount of comfort while allowing the foot to breathe and the toes to space out properly. To keep your feet healthy, purchase a step-in slipper from Minal today for your outside sports and workout space use.