NOTES FROM COACH / TIPS & THOUGHTS

MINDFUL MAC

Put Your Foot Down - The Key to Lifelong Movement

When the pandemic started, I stayed the hell home and worked from there.


I had no other choice.


At the time, I was teaching virtual workouts from my apartment in downtown Halifax, sometimes for up to 200 people at a time. The experience was as uplifting as it was useful, because it gave me the primitive tools I needed to develop my own business.


Getting comfortable on camera.


Perfecting the craft of coaching and "cueing."


Making kick ass playlists that helped make the workouts even more enjoyable than they already were - or so I was told.


Anyway!


The feedback was immense, and it gave me so much pride to know I was helping people feel better during such uncertain times.


The one thing that I did without realizing the potential long term impact was working out in my bare feet.


Seriously,


The initial reason for doing so was pretty standard - I lived on the top floor of my building and I didn’t want to disturb my neighbours.


I mean, I've been told that I’m actually very light on my feet - but I digress.


Regardless of the reasoning, I trained in my bare feet and people noticed.


Boy, did they ever notice.


“Mike, why do you work out in your bare feet?”


“I can’t do that - it hurts too much”


“Aren’t you worried about dropping a weight on your foot?”


I was surprised with the amount of questions I received, but I loved trying to answer them all.


The truth is that as a society, we have been incredibly misguided when it comes to foot health.


We have been led to believe that we need support instead of strength - to use cushioning instead of allowing our foot to act naturally and get stronger in the process.


Most people associate foot and ankle pain with something that requires bracing and immobilization, when much like the rest of the body, it actually requires movement.


Safe, progressive and well-planned movement, but movement, nonetheless.


The human body works from the bottom up. Every major joint (ankles, knees, hips/lower back, neck) is affected by what’s going on below them.

So, it could be argued that foot health is more important than just about anything else, because if they don't move well it effects everything else above them.


Feet have thousands of nerve endings that send signals to the rest of the body to help you better understand your movements.


When you stimulate the nerves of the foot, you get a better understanding of what you're standing on and how you should react, which starts to shape your overall movement - this is called proprioception.


Most mainstream shoes block this floor-to-foot connection, especially those with extra support and cushioning.


This sadly includes most of the popular (and most expensive) brands of running/training shoes found today.


The easy answer for most people is to spend more time in their bare feet, which can help toes, feet and ankles become stronger, more mobile and more resistant to injury.


The reality is that for many people, years of wearing poorly fitting footwear has rendered them incapable of doing things like running, jumping and getting physically active without some sort of support.


This article will not only explain the benefits of stronger feet, but will also show how easily it can be worked into any routine.


Regardless of what any person has told you, every single person can benefit from spending more time barefoot.


You just need to know how to do it properly.



The Benefits


First things first - what are the benefits of stronger feet anyway?



Better Body Awareness


As mentioned, going barefoot can help increase proprioception - the experience of how your body moves in space.


When going barefoot, your ability to do certain movements - especially lower body exercises - immediately changes simply because you feel like you are in closer contact with the ground.


An easy way to notice this increased proprioception comes with an often-used cue for coaching exercises like squats and lunges: "drive up through your heel, the outer edge of your foot and forefoot/toes."


When you can actually feel the ground, this cue will be way easier to execute, understand and remember.


Stronger and More Mobile Feet


Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility for the entire body.


Much like the rest of the body, aches and pains of the feet are almost always associated with weakness of a particular muscle, or group of muscles.


Strong feet mean a strong foundation for the entire body - which is exceedingly important as you lift heavier and progress to more advanced movements.


Before you go barefoot for your next workout, try this practice drill first: Standing or sitting barefoot, lift all your toes up off the floor. Then slowly place them back down, one at a time. It doesn't need to be perfect, and it's okay if some toes move together.


Aim to do 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions in each foot. If you can do this with relative ease and without pain, it’s likely safe to try some exercises with bare feet.



Strength Imbalance Awareness


Personally, I have been associating barefoot/minimal footwear movement into my routine for several years, because an injury forced me to hit reset.


I spent many years playing overhand sports that wreaked havoc on my right shoulder, and I've always had jobs that required long hours on my feet and heavy lifting in a variety of positions.


In my early years as a trainer, I spent too much time doing things that I thought I was supposed to do, instead of recognizing what I needed to do.


In short, I was wracked with strength imbalances and constant aches and pains, and if I was going to start over, I needed to start from the ground and work my way up.


In doing so, I am now better equipped to “self-assess” my form and recognize weaker points in the body.


For example, a bodyweight squat with shoes on might look and feel completely different then without. A significant difference can indicate a stability/mobility issue, and the need to start incorporating specific drills into your workouts to help address and improve them.



Better Stability Everywhere


The more information you can get from your feet, the more stable your base and, often, the better your balance and posture overall.

Some people (myself included) feel stronger during certain movements because they can engage smaller muscles on the bottom of their feet. This activity and muscular engagement is usually associated with stronger

muscles/joints of the lower leg, thighs, hips, glutes and core.



How to Do it!


First things first - some people are simply not ready to incorporate barefoot training into their routine just set, especially if they have been dealing with anything that could be made worse by the additional strain.


If you have foot pain that doesn't seem to get better, an in-person assessment by a healthcare provider is likely warranted.


There - that was your disclaimer!


Before we get into the "how-to", let us quickly note signs, symptoms and effects of poor foot/ankle health, and detail the long term benefits of a stronger lower leg.


So how the hell do you know if your feet are "healthy" anyway?


“Mobility” is a term to describe how a joint moves through a particular range of motion (ROM).


Having "limited" mobility means that there is some reason that the joint has difficulty moving easily through a full ROM, usually related to strength.


The ankle and big toe are the joints that are key for proper execution of lower body exercises like lunges, squats and deadlifts. Limited mobility in either one (or both) can have a major impact on those movements, and are often accompanied with knee, hip and back pain due to movement compensation.


Not only do those injuries (even minor ones) mean time away from the gym, but they also may encourage improper movement patterns. The body is amazing at compensating, but it often results in overuse and chronic, long-term injury.


In general, most people recognize when they have weak or unstable feet because they often suffer from poor balance and injuries like sprained ankles or plantar fasciitis. Since the foot is an intricate system of muscle, tendon, ligaments and bone, all injuries and issues are usually related.


Those with weaker feet also feel as though they need more support through cushioning or orthotics. Although it seems counterintuitive, most people would actually benefit more from a strengthening program.


Arch support can be important while going through injury - but it’s NOT a permanent solution.


Strength is, and always will be, number one.


Check out the videos below to see how to strengthen your feet while also building stability in other key areas of the body!


* Note: In the first video, a resistance band is being used to increase hip flexion resistance. If you are new to this exercise, you can practice this movement without the band.


*In video 2-4, a slant board is being used to increase the demand on the ankle, knee and hip joint. Any elevated surface will do, and if you're new to these exercises, practicing on a flat surface is totally fine.


 

1. Banded March

  • Benefits: Increased strength and stability in the anterior foot/ankle (important for proper running and jumping mechanics)

  • Bonus: Increased hip and core strength



2. Slant Board Calf Raise

  • Benefits: Increased range of motion (dorsiflexion) in the ankle

  • Bonus: Better ankle ROM usually translates to higher quality squats and lunges, making it easier to build muscle and strength in the largest muscle groups in the body



3. Slant Board SLRDL

  • Benefits: Increased ankle, knee and hip strength and stability

  • Bonus: Increasing strength and stability in the single leg stance usually translates well to ADLs (activities of daily living)



4. Reverse Curtsy Lunge

  • Benefits: Increased ankle, knee and hip strength and stability

  • Bonus: Increasing strength and stability in the single leg stance usually translates well to ADLs (activities of daily living)


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