Let’s Talk About Feet

First off, I would like to thank everyone for their love and support for my first event, “The Power of Uncondtional Love” at the Towson Athleta. Not only did it make my sponsorship officially “real,” but it also helped to raise over $500 for Baltimore Bully Crew. **Everyone clap their hands!** WOOHOO!! Thank you, thank you! Wiggle wiggle, shake shake.

Now, I would like to address a topic that has plagued me for a few years, in hopes that my journey and what I’ve learned may help you. It started with my feet and progressed to my shoulder. Here’s the spoiler: I realized that sitting all day on my bum da da dum really was just not good for my body. Shocker. Let’s talk about feet!

Do you have HAPPY FEET that make YOU dance!?!

Background

I began teaching kickboxing classes in 2006, and then running in 2008. I’ve always had to search high and low for “good” shoes that were just perfect for my feet and weirdly enough, would protect my knees. Stupid knees. Doctors initially diagnosed me with patellofemoral stress syndrome—aka, I had womanly hips. Gee, thanks.

Running was my icing on the cake–it was kind of liberating and motivating. I completed feats that I had never even thought of, and along with that I found a whole new love for my body and the health of it. Fast forward to summer of 2011 (when I was training for a half marathon since the winter) and discovered that something was going on with my body that just didn’t like running—my left knee! It was extremely painful and ultimately ended my love for running…for the time being.

Feet

Since 2008, I had orthotics in my running shoes. They worked great, and I didn’t have any knee discomfort while running or even teaching kickboxing classes. In fact, I was becoming faster and doing pretty well—at least I thought. Come to find out, the orthotics began to do horrible things for my feet: they caused my ankle and calcaneus (the back bone of my foot) to be unaligned.

Enter barefoot training research.

Did you know that you can strengthen your feet? It’s true. And, in fact, that is just what I discovered. From that day forward, I got rid of my super cushioned, supportive running shoes and pursued the barefoot movement. Who doesn’t love trudging around in their bare feet??! I even read, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall which I highly recommend. I learned a great deal about running in his adventures to locate the elusive Caballo Blanco. More importantly, he wanted to use this “White Horse” to locate the Tarahumara, possibly “…the healthiest and most serene people on the earth, and the greatest runners of all time.” Essentially, the Tarahumara reiterate that you do not need super fancy shoes to conquer running, nor do you need fancy goos and foods to fuel your body. They eat real food, run a lot—and I mean A LOT. Interesting, huh?

I continued my new found love for feet (not really a true love for feet just their movement/function) and discovered barefoot training.

Enter the Kettlebell. I began training with kettlebells in September, 2011 and immediately fell in love. The strength training, the movements, and KETTLEBELLS—love at first sight. This training further strengthened my feet, because those pesky shoes were not restricting my small intrinsic muscles from working.

**Stand up right now in your shoes—try to grip the floor with your feet. Now do the same without shoes. What do you feel?**

Do you neglect your feet in your training? Many gyms have been known to frown upon barefoot training. And, well, some people just think that it is gross because they are scared they may catch a fungus or cooties. It should be noted that unless you’re in a terribly moist environment, i.e., a shower stall, you typically will not contract a fungus. Myself, and all of my clients, train barefoot.

Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, specializes in foot function and barefoot training. She hosted a Barefoot Training Specialist course in October, and will return again to discuss the “Functional Foot and Ankle” on April 27th at Bel Air Athletic Club. Dr. Emily says, “With every step that we take the small muscles of the foot contract to absorb shock and stabilize the foot for propulsion. If we take an average 5,000 – 8,000 steps a day – don’t you think these muscles deserve a little TLC?” Furthermore, she says, “I believe that everyone should be doing foot mobility and strengthening exercises every day. Just like we brush our teeth – we need to recover the muscles on the bottom of the foot.”

From kettlebells to deadlifting and squats, I’ve learned that I can do it all barefoot while creating a better connection with my body–full body tension, as well as all those awesome foot muscles gripping the floor to give me what I need for big lifts. Even if you don’t pursue big lifts, barefoot training is essential for your whole body—balance, neuromuscular system, proprioception, the list goes on. I like to also do some intervals of jump ropes, plyos, burpees, and kettlebell swings.

Dr. Emily comments, “As my patients or clients begin to regularly do barefoot exercises they actually notice a change in their arch and foot type. This is no accident – but rather directly related to barefoot science and the power of the small muscles on the bottom of the foot!” Do you have flat feet? Have you struggled with similar shoe issues as I described above? Investigate these barefoot exercises for yourself and see how your foot reacts.

Posture

Let’s move to the rest of the body. Guess what? It is all related to your feet. Your feet are a basic foundation that ensures that the rest of your body works together for efficient movement. If your feet lack mobility or strength, then it is almost certain that they have caused another part of your body to move inefficiently. It’s all connected.

As for me, I now have a standing workstation. I stand at my desk barefoot, ensuring proper alignment and posture of my body while working. Yes, don’t worry everyone still questions me, “What are you doing??” Since I began standing while working, my posture has changed a great deal and the shoulder issues I was having while sitting at my desk have subsided. I do sit occasionally, but instead of being seated while driving to work, while at work, and while driving home; I’m only sedentary for a very short portion of the day and for my commute.

Interesting….. hmmm…..

Furthermore, while I stand on my little barefoot mat (that my awesome father-in-law got for me) I can stand on one foot practicing balance and stability, rotate my ankles, practice short foot, stand on golf balls—basically, I’m doing a few exercises while I work! Woohoo!!

One of the awesome exercises mentioned above, that Dr. Emily taught me, is called “short foot.” She explains, “The short foot is one of my favorite exercise as not only does it strengthen the muscles that support the arch – but it actually reinforces muscle activation patterns that are critical to hip, pelvis and foot function.” Try it–Take your shoes off and think about gripping your feet into the floor, but you want to shorten the space between your arch—there’s a video here:

Dr. Emily continues, “When you do the short foot position the deep muscles of your hip and pelvic floor engage – which to me is the greatest demonstration of how interconnected your foot is with almost every closed chain movement we do!”

Did you ever think how important your feet are to your every day life? Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have previous issues with your feet. Do the research and ensure you’re informed when meeting with your doctor. Practice your balance and stability without shoes and began to get those muscles “thinking.”

HAPPY HAPPY FEET.

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