Your Feet Are Your Biggest Supporter
When you ask for advice on training to improve your golf game, you’ll probably hear responses about rotational power, hip mobility, and core strength. While all of these aspects of training are important, you can’t forget about the two structures that support you through all 18 holes: your feet!
Your feet are your foundation for balance and power. If they don’t support you properly, it doesn’t matter how much mobility, strength, or power you have, you have failed to create a strong connection with the ground. This results in a loss of power which ultimately leads to a shorter drive than you’re capable of.
I often see this loss of connection, in the form of feet flattening, while watching athletes walk, run, or perform other lower body exercises. From behind, it appears as though the athlete’s ankle is falling over the inside of their foot. This can even cause their knees to collapse towards each other into valgus. Beneath the skin, the athlete is losing the support of the muscles in the arch of their foot, which results in the loss of ground connection and the appearance of a flat foot.
If you’ve trained for even one session here at Olympia Fitness + Performance, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ve heard a coach tell you to “grip the floor”. When you think about gripping the floor, you are actually engaging the muscles in your arch to keep you supported and keep proper alignment through your lower leg.
While “gripping the floor” can be a helpful cue, you may still struggle to maintain an arch while exercising even though you’re directing all your energy towards that cue. This likely isn’t for a lack of trying, but it’s because the muscles of the arch aren’t strong enough and don’t have enough endurance to maintain proper engagement throughout the day, or even a set of exercises.
There are many movement dysfunctions that can be present in the human body due to a specific combination of overactive and underactive muscles. When your feet flatten during exercise or throughout the day, it is often caused by tightness or over activity in the lateral head of the gastrocnemius and the peroneals (See Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). Along with this, weakness or under activity will likely be observed in the anterior tibialis and posterior tibialis (See Fig. 3).
To simplify the anatomy of these muscles, we can look at these images and imagine the muscles as rubber bands. In Fig.1, you will notice that the peroneals attach to the outside of the foot. If those green, red, and blue tendons were rubber bands, they would be extremely tight. This would result in them pulling the outside of the foot up towards the ankle, resulting in the arch of the foot flattening into the ground. In Fig. 3, you will see the tendons of the anterior and posterior tibialis muscles attach into the arch of your foot. If these were rubber bands, they would be extremely loose and have no tension. The lack of tension in the arch of the foot combined with the excess tension pulling the foot out is what results in the feet flattening.
So… what does this mean?
While other muscles can also contribute to feet flattening, these are a great place to start. It is important to foam roll and stretch the overactive muscles (peroneals and gastrocnemius) and strengthen the anterior and posterior tibialis muscles. (Hint: Think back to the rubber band! We need to stretch out the tight one and tighten up the loose one!)
Gastrocnemius and Peroneals Lengthening
Foam rolling is a great way to release tension in the muscles, tendons, and fascia. Sit down with your leg extended and foam roller under your calf. Keep your hips on the ground and hands behind you for support. Roll up and down small portions of the calf “scanning” for tender spots. When you find a tender spot, stay there (and even add more pressure with the other leg) until you feel a release, then scan again until you find another spot. You should remain on each spot for about 30-60 seconds.
Once you finish foam rolling, static stretching is a great follow-up to encourage long-term increases in muscle length. To stretch your calf, stand facing a wall with both hands on the wall. Step one foot back and with a straight knee, press your heel down towards the ground until a strong, but comfortable stretch is felt. Remain here until a release is felt (about 30-60 seconds) on each side.
After stretching the overactive muscles, it’s important to follow up with strengthening the underactive muscles. Strengthening will help pull the overactive muscles into a more lengthened position in everyday life. While the combination may be more time consuming, it’s incredibly important for long-lasting results.
Anterior Tibialis Strengthening
Banded Toe Raise
Anchor a superband around the low surface. Begin seated with your leg extended, the band low around the ankle, and your calf elevated on a foam roller. With your toes curled and the sole of your foot turned slightly in, pull the top of your foot towards your knee. Hold for 2-4 seconds before slowly lowering back down. To increase sensation through the front of the shin, contract your quads and glutes maximally throughout the movement.
Standing Toe Raise
Stand with your elbows against a wall (plank position on the wall). Curl your toes under as you raise your foot towards your knee. Hold for 2-4 seconds before slowly lowering back down. The easiest version of this exercise is standing on both feet with heels elevated while only moving one foot. The hardest version of this exercise is standing on the ground and standing on the single leg that is moving.
Posterior Tibialis Strengthening
Anchor a superband around a low surface. Begin seated with your leg extended, the band around the ball of your foot, your calf elevated on a foam roller. The band should be trying to pull your foot back and out to the side of your body. While keeping your toes pulled up towards your face, press the fall of your foot down and slightly in. Hold for 2-4 seconds before slowly raising back to neutral.
Seated Banded Heel Raise
Begin seated with a mini band looped low around your ankles. Turn your feet inward slightly, so that your pinky toes aim straight forward. Curl your toes up to your face. While keeping the ball of your foot and the knuckle of your pinky toe on the ground, drive your feels up and out against the resistance. Ensure your knees stay in the same position the entire time (not opening away from each other or collapsing in). This movement should originate from the ankle joint, not from the hips.
Believe it or not, these stretches and exercises are just one piece of improving lower leg dysfunction. In this blog, I only covered the basics of stretching and isolated activation. Other important pieces include core activation, balance integration, and reactive or dynamic movement.
Today, I taught you how to start engaging the muscles through the arch of your foot. Our next step is to progress and learn how to keep that foot position while walking, training, and swinging a club. If you feel lost or like you’re ready to progress, give us a call to schedule a Functional Movement Screen or TPI Screening. These tests allows us to watch specific movements that will provide an insight into your movement dysfunction in everyday life and on the green!
All exercises and content in this blog are from The Brookbush Institute.
Boettcher, D. (2021, December 29). Feet Flatten (LED) and Introduction to Reactive Activation [Webinar]. Brookbush Institute: Human Movement Science.
Katie Usher is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Olympia Fitness and Performance. She recently graduated from the University of Rhode Island with degrees in Kinesiology and Psychology. While interning at Olympia, she found a love for helping athletes and general fitness clients push themselves to new levels in the gym, on the field, and in life. She is excited to continue setting clients on a path that allows them reach their goals.