Your feet are your foundation – and are the first responders to the environment, constantly giving your brain feedback about the type of material you are standing on and how best to approach it. Your foot has 26 bones and 33 joints – all of which have the potential for movement, but are most likely lacking in flexibility. Why? Shoes and paved surfaces.
In much of western culture, the belief is that the foot must be supported by shoes that limit motion and provide a ton of cushion. Well this seems fine and dandy, I don’t agree with the idea that our anatomy has caught up to technology. Shoe and orthotics act as braces for the arches and structures of our feet, limiting the ability of the 33 joints to respond to movement as they would naturally.
Notice how my foot is able to absorb the shape of the dog bone barefoot, but not with a shoe? You can even see additional stress that’s placed on my ankle (appearing as more wrinkles/compression on the outside of my ankle) when I step on the bone with a shoe on.
Now, if you are in a ton of pain from plantar fasciitis or some other pathology, it makes sense to wear a brace to help get you out of pain. But once pain has subsided, or if it has never appeared in the first place, propping up an arch that should be stabilized by muscles and connective tissue only serves to weaken it. The arches of Roman Aqueducts have done just fine for last 18 centuries or so without something holding them up…just sayin’.
Have you ever broken a bone and had a cast? Just as the muscles on the limb are withered away from lack of use when the cast is removed, the same thing happens over time to your feet from being constantly braced. They lose not only the ability to support and stabilize the foot and the rest of the body, but lack the sensitivity (proprioception) to respond to the environment as they would have otherwise.
Living in LA, I understand the need for shoes – Los Angeles is filthy and I would never go barefoot beyond my driveway. Most of the surfaces I encounter on a daily basis are also paved and graded to ensure that they are as level as possible. This means my feet never have to encounter more than a 5% grade of hard man-made surfaces daily. So yes, some cushioning by way of shoes is needed because our boney structure wasn’t designed to take the impact of asphalt and concrete repetitively.
But movement has to happen somewhere to enable you to walk – and when our shoes have incredibly stiff soles, most of the motion happens in the next available joint – the ankle. Many of my students come to me with ankles that are locked down and immobile. When a joint is constantly overtaxed, the soft tissues around it can tighten up in an effort to create more stability and protection.
So what’s a super easy way to strengthen your ankles that you can do twice a day every day? Practice balancing on one foot while you are brushing your teeth! We should all be brushing our teeth for at least 2 minutes a day and my electric toothbrush alerts me every 30 seconds. This is the perfect rep scheme: 2 sets of 30 seconds on each side, twice a day. Make sure you do this in bare feet to improve your proprioception (body awareness) at the same time.
Once you’ve mastered balancing on one foot, try coming up on to the balls of your feet, with both feet or one. I am confident that you will slowly start to build the strength in your feet as you clean your teeth. Ready for the ninja level? Build Bulletproof Ankles and Feet with me in the video below.
You don’t want the foundation of your body built on floppy sand – strengthen your feet by simply balancing on them daily!
Let me know what other mobility sessions you squeeze into your daily routine in the comments below.
- July 9: Mobility for Performance: Total Body Treatment (Santa Monica, CA) **just added!
- July 24: T-Rex Hates Chaturanga (Brea, CA)
- July 29 – Aug 7: YTU Level 1 Teacher Training (San Juan Capistrano, CA)
- August 13-14: Structurally Sound Embodied Anatomy for Every Body Workshop Series (San Francisco, CA)