The Foundation of Athleticism
Welcome To Thunderdome
Athleticism starts with whatever is touching the ground. For most of us this is our feet. Our feet are also, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked parts of the body. Sure, a small percentage of the population is REALLY into feet and that's perfectly okay as long as no one is being creepy about it. For a much larger percentage feet are like employees in the mailroom and we are tyrannical bosses. Just do your job and keep quiet, feet. I say enough already! It's time to give our feet the attention they deserve and give them the kind of training a top earner would get. This starts with learning to dome the arch.
As an isolated exercise arch doming is useful to establish the mind-body connection between you and your neglected foot muscles. Its real value becomes apparent when it is integrated into more dynamic movement. This is how feet get stronger, with daily functional practice. Once you learn how to switch those muscles on, a functional progression might look something like this:
Seated heel raises
Standing bilateral mini squat
Standing bilateral pronation/supination
Standing bilateral heel raises
Forward/backward walking on hills
Forward/backward walking on uneven ground
Bouncing on forefoot
360 tomahawk dunk
Any one of these items may take several days or even weeks to get full control over. Running with active arches may take months or years to cultivate. I am in the slow jog phase currently, and that is after 9 months of progression. My feet feel better, my knees feel better, I feel lighter when I move. The process has not been boring, it has been transformative and fascinating.
The Foot Bone's Connected To The Ankle Bone
Some of the muscles that control the foot originate in the lower leg so let's not leave them out in the cold. Here is a lower leg exercise routine that can be done with active arches and no equipment other than some shoes (or a padded floor, folded yoga mat, etc) and a wall to lean on. If using a wall be sure it is vertical. If your wall is horizontal then you are on a floor and these exercises will not work.
This pair of exercises is best done as a superset:
Perform a set of the first exercise, with active feet, until you are close to technique failure (i.e. you can no longer get through the full ROM without cheating)
Perform a set of the second exercise, stopping a couple reps shy of technique failure
Rest for 1-3 minutes
Repeat until you have reached your target number of sets.
I recommend doing 2-3 sets each time you do them. There doesn't seem to be much danger of overtraining these (though I'm sure it is possible). Anecdotally I have done them 3-7 days a week and never even gotten overly sore. That being said listen to your body and give it time to adapt!
The elevated split squat is a fantastic exercise for building strength and flexibility at the same time. It can improve front ankle dorsiflexion and rear leg hip extension. It trains the quad in a lengthened, deep knee flexion position that is often neglected. Progress slowly, allow your connective tissue time to adapt, and gradually take the front foot from an elevated position down to the floor. It took me about a year to get from the third step on my staircase all the way down to the floor.
2-3 sets of 10 on each leg. Rest 30-90 seconds between sets.
Enjoy The Journey
Take your time, breathe, be fully present as you do these. Give your body time to adapt at the level of your nervous system and connective tissue as well as your muscles. These exercises can have beneficial effects for the lower extremity and beyond. That being said, they are no substitute for a comprehensive physical therapy examination and treatment program. If you are experiencing pain or persistent problems get in touch with me! At Neighborhood Physical Therapy I help people break out of the pain cycle and get back to what they love or on to the next adventure.