"Think of the magic of the foot, comparatively small, on which your whole weight rests, it is a miracle and dancing is a celebration of this miracle." Martha Graham
Is not it fascinating that 26 small bones can support a person's body weight? Often taken for granted, the coordination and integrated power of the human foot has evolved to allow miracles to move.
As a Functional Podiatrist and Health and Fitness Professional, I've spent my career helping others find beauty in motion through science. Barefoot Stimulation and Foot Core Integration. Daily foot strengthening is one of the most effective ways to prevent foot pain and to ensure optimal energy transfer with every step.
What follows are several foot strengthening exercises that aim to build the "core" of the foot. But first a brief discussion of some key terms relating to the feet:
The foot and ankle have two classes of muscles: extrinsic and intrinsic. The extrinsic foot muscles originate outside the foot, but in the foot (Figure 1). There are 12 (and sometimes 13) extrinsic foot muscles that can be subdivided into lower leg compartments. It is their coordinated muscle contractions that produce tension and stiffness with dynamic motion.
Conversely, the intrinsic foot muscles arise and enter the foot (Figure 2). There are 12 intrinsic muscles, two on the top of the foot and 10 in the plantar side of the foot. Like the extrinsic muscles, the intrinsic muscles are grouped into compartments, allowing for the dissipation of impact forces and foot stability.
When it comes to foot-oriented exercises, anything that causes movements of the ankle Subtalar joint or toes is an extrinsic exercise, while exercises that focus on stiffness and tension target the intrinsic muscles.
A calf raiser, for example, is an extrinsic exercise because there are movements on both the ankle and toe. Conversely, the short foot exercise (described below) is an intrinsic exercise that focuses on the foot tension. Functionally, it is important to strengthen both muscle groups as both groups are involved in an exercise or movement and the order of their involvement is important. This is called intermuscular coordination and is the secret for optimal foot function and foot-core stabilization.
2. Local vs. global stabilizers of the nucleus
The nucleus can be divided into two different classes of stabilizers – local stabilizers and global stabilizers (Figure 3). Local stabilizers are deeper core muscles that contract isometrically to produce stiffness and contain a high concentration of proprioceptors. These could be compared to the intrinsic foot muscles.
Conversely, the global stabilizers are rather superficial and have the function of slowing the movement by eccentric contractions. Like the extrinsic foot muscles, the global stabilizers should follow the intrinsic or local stabilization activation and carry the same intermuscular coordination as the feet.
This local-then-global activation is similar to the intrinsic-extrinsic activation of the foot
3. Focused intrinsic activation
The short foot exercise [click for video demonstration] targets the abductor halluces which is an intrinsic muscle. The abductor halluces arise on the medial side of the heel (calcaneus), run the length of the medial arch, and attach to the side of the big toe (proximal phalynx). Functional of this muscle:
- Abducts the hallux
- Elevations of the medial arch
- Inverts (stabilizes) the subtalar joint
- Creates a coordinated contraction in the deep core
The short foot exercise can be performed as a foot activation exercise or be integrated into many other closed-chain exercises, including squats, lunges, and step-ups.
4. Foot Intrinsic Extrinsic Coordination
In all dynamic movements, the feet function by coordinating the intrinsic-then -extrinsic activation. Therefore, exercises should integrate the same concept. The Short Heel [click for video demonstration] is an example of a coordinated foot exercise.
To make this exercise even more functional, however, the feet must be integrated with the rest of the body, specifically the core
5. Foot-to-core integration
To be truly functional To be, it is necessary to integrate the nuclear power of the foot with the nuclear power of the body. This happens through the coordination of the breath [click for video demonstration] with each foot activation.
Whether your client is an avid barefoot runner or a new fitness, the foot reinforcement must work again and again. The feet are the foundation of the body and are connected to the body's center of gravity, the core.
An individual's ability to integrate intrinsic foot reinforcement into core stabilization is ultimately the goal in all closed chain exercises. The integration of the exercises described here can be easily applied to each client's preparation for exercise at the beginning of the session or during each closed-chain exercise.
Learn about strengthening the feet in the course feet, fascia and functional movement.