2 Essential Foot Functions to Upgrade Your Training
The feet are complex beasts that powerfully support many movements in training and day-to-day life. The plethora of joints, muscles, tendons, and fascia in your feet are engineered to provide two functions for all your athletic movements: stationary support and dynamic spring.
Stationary support provides a solid base for your feet and the muscles, joints, and limbs above your feet to work from. In contrast, dynamic spring uses the joints of your feet as mobile, elastic, power-producing structures. Squatting and deadlifting movements from the floor need a strong base in the form of stationary support, while the more dynamic running, jumping, and skipping movements require the power and efficiency of dynamic spring.
From squats to double unders, training your feet is the first step to accessing your full athletic potential.
There are more complex movements that use both stationary support and dynamic spring. Weighted carries, for example, need a lot more stationary support from the feet than walking and running, but also need to utilise dynamic spring for forward progression. Olympic weightlifting uses stationary support in the first pull, before harnessing dynamic spring in the second pull and switching back to stationary support in the catch.
Harnessing the power of your stationary support and dynamic spring in your training will improve your performance exponentially. This article will teach you how to isolate and train these foot functions to maximise stationary support and dynamic spring for performance and injury prevention.
Stationary support describes a strong, rigid foot structure that connects your body firmly and safely to the ground and gives the muscles, joints, and limbs above your feet a solid base to work from. Failure of your feet to achieve stationary support when squatting, deadlifting, pressing, or landing from a jump will result in added strain to muscles, tendons, and joints further up the body.
All thirty-three of your foot joints need to be locked tight to form a strong base for stationary support with a rigid arch. Many athletes I see try to achieve a rigid arch for stationary support by lifting their big toe joint off the ground. This is a mistake as it dramatically reduces the required stability from the foot. For stationary support, the foot arch needs to be rigid, with the big toe joint and big toe firmly pressed on the ground. It’s about having a strong arch, not a high arch.
An Active Arch for a Strong Arch
The Active Arch/Lazy Arch is the exercise I recommend for training a strong foot arch.
The Active Arch/Lazy Arch can be performed anytime during the day, and ideally should be performed more than once a day. There’s no set prescription for sets, repetitions, or time held. The Active Arch/Lazy Arch just needs to be performed often enough for your body to learn what a strong arch feels like to achieve solid stationary support for your strength-based training.
Take a look at the video below and read the instructions on how to do the Active Arch/Lazy Arch.
- Start with your feet underneath your hips, pointing either straight ahead or at the 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock position as per the layout of numbers on a clock face.
- Allow your foot to be relaxed and sloppy, letting them collapse right in. This is the Lazy Arch position.
- Pull the middle of your arch up to make your foot tight, strong, and rigid. Ensure your big toe joint and big toe are still firmly on the ground. This is the Active Arch position.
- Hold the Active Arch position for 5 seconds, then slump your foot back into Lazy Arch.
- Repeat this process as often as possible throughout the day.
The Active Arch/Lazy Arch exercise is an essential starting point to achieve strong stationary support in your feet. If you can’t achieve a good Active Arch position comfortably with just bodyweight on your feet, don’t even think about adding load and volume to your feet in the squat rack. While your feet may survive squatting with a Lazy Arch foot position, your knees certainly won’t.
Dynamic spring uses the joints of your foot as mobile, elastic, power-producing structural mechanisms. Harnessing dynamic spring from your feet will increase power, performance capacity, and endurance when walking, running, or taking off from a jump. Conversely, a lack of dynamic spring will leak power and efficiency and place added strain and stress on the Achilles tendon, tibialis posterior tendon, and calf and hamstring muscles. An athlete can’t afford not to have dynamic spring.
Train the Spring with a Hop
I like to train dynamic spring with an exercise I call Bunny Hops. Bunny Hops are effectively skipping without a rope.
Below is a video of the Bunny Hops exercise performed in slow motion. Note that you need to perform Bunny Hops as quietly as possible. You should be able to do Bunny Hops on wooden floorboards outside a sleeping baby’s bedroom and not wake the child up.
- Do the Bunny Hops without your shoes on, as their effectiveness is dramatically reduced by the cushioning materials found in most footwear.
- The balls of your feet and toes should come off the ground just a small amount, and your heels need to lightly contact the ground with every hop. Allowing the heels to lightly contact the ground uses the entire foot complex to load the elastic spring of the arch.
- Once you have loaded the elastic spring of the foot arch, you can effortlessly recoil up off the ground for the next repetition.
Perform Bunny Hops as a 10 second drill, repeated regularly when you can, as much as you can. Once proficient with Bunny Hops, add a skipping rope. As your feet move your body up and down, you also have to turn the rope with your wrist, and you might find your feet thud and crash to the ground. Maintain quiet, stealth-like foot movement while having to swing the rope to train your coordination and proprioception. Do 5 seconds of Bunny Hops followed by 10 seconds of skipping, and repeat regularly until the sound of your feet is identical between the two exercises. Use a noisy surface underneath your feet for feedback. A loud contact surface effectively determines whether your feet are functioning as dynamic springs or thudding bricks.
Athletic Performance Starts with Foot Awareness
A huge element of what I do as a podiatrist is to create awareness of human feet and how they function. This awareness leads to athletes being able to make better decisions in respect to their feet. Whether you need to train stationary support, dynamic spring, or a combination of both, feet with healthy function in these two areas are an asset to your sport and life in general.
Your feet are one of the biggest resources for training gains and injury prevention. By training stationary support and dynamic spring, you're taking the first step to tapping into that resource.
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Photo courtesy of Rx'd Photography