A tree’s strength ultimately depends on how strong its roots are. If the roots are weak, then there’s risk that the tree will fall over. The human body is much like a tree, in that we are only as strong as our feet and ankles are. Particularly for athletes, if muscles controlling movements at the hips and knees are very strong but the foot and ankle complex is weak, then power expression will be greatly diminished. There are 26 bones (1/4 of the bones in the human body are in the feet), 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When there’s weakness, imbalance, poor activation, or poor coordination of the muscles in these areas, the foot and ankle complex doesn’t function properly. This can cause muscles in one area to have to work harder, which can increase stress, leading to soreness, tightness, or an overuse injury because other areas of the body, such as the hips and knees, will have to compensate for the poor foot/ankle mechanics. The structures in the ankle and foot must be strong to create stability, but also mobile to function properly and to reduce the risk of an injury.
In this month's post, we will be highlighting some of our favorite foot/ankle exercises. When doing these exercises, shoes should NOT be worn. Shoes are good for comfort and protection, but they decrease activation in muscles of the foot. Wearing shoes can hinder toe movement, especially if the shoes being worn have a small toe box. Our toes help with balance and stabilization, so when they're squished together in a shoe, our base of support becomes smaller, leading to decrease in balance. They’re also the last point of push off when walking or running so immobility will diminish these actions because we won't be able to apply force into the ground over a large range of motion. When looking for good training shoes, choose ones that have a wider toe box of the shoe to allow for better mobility in our toes and feet. Also, avoid ones that have an extreme amount of cushion or air pockets on the bottom, as this will also decrease the proprioceptive feedback we get from walking barefoot or in minimalist shoes.
When doing any exercise, it's important to maintain a "tripod" foot position. This allows our feet to produce force into the ground effectively.
There's many exercises we can do for the foot and ankle since the structures are so complex. Here's a list of several exercises that are beneficial for flexibility, mobility, stability, strength, and coordination.