Every coach who really trains athletes on a daily basis and really knows the discriminants of human performance is aware of the fact that building the “perfect” performance machine is not a question of one single detail respect to others.
Sports performance is a delicate balance between several aspects converging into one main goal: it’s the whole body synchrony merging into one specific output.
Unfortunately social marketing is king today and some coaches, instead of showing the results of their athletes as a motivation for others, try to give advise by writing words over words from the comfortable sit of their homes.
One of the aspects in which coaches and sports medicine/rehab professionals should focus more than ever is the function of the foot: “focus on” mean taking care of it like one of the discriminants of human performance and not like the single magic factor which is expected to improve alone an athlete performance. Not a single factor can do that alone, nor sleep nor hamstring training nor max strength. This is why the overall process of athlete’s preparation is complex and we cannot reduce it to a simplistic level by making reductionist claims.
Taking care about foot does not specifically mean just “training the feet”; instead it means to look at how the feet are handling all the mechanical stresses and loads (kinematics and kinetics) as well as the physiological/neuromuscular outputs taking place from the malleolus all the way up to the neck.
Three Simple and Basic Reasons to Take Care About Foot
1) Feet as a Foundation for Movement Proficiency
Movement has been the absolute protagonist in the last years as we have assisted to an exponential rise of movement experts who were giving advices on how to move better by rolling all day long into balls, foam rollers and stretching with rubber bands.
Luckily the concept (and neuromechanics) of movement is more exciting (and complex) than this and to properly understand movement we have to take a step back to fundamentals biomechanics as well as neurophysiology.
Optimal timing of muscle actions and segmental motions, which are related to the intrinsic characteristics of a determined movement, can only be accomplished if the point of contact with the ground (ie foot strike and consequent center of pressure displacement) is able to properly handle and coordinate the high-force or high-speed requirements of a specific motor skill.
We define movement proficiency as the expression of the coordination-continuum principle and coordination of motor skills:
2) Feet as an Adaptive Sensor
The adaptive capability of the foot is of paramount importance to achieve the optimal stiffness needed to propel movement.
Proper function of tissues like plantar fascia and plantar aponeurosis as well as segmental motions of the different structures of the foot allow the plantar surface to modulate tissue tension when first striking the ground and to adapt to the surface by modulate segments mobility in order to resupinate foot during midstance and propulsion phase.
An holistic training and tissue regeneration approach who is taking into account the segmental nature of the foot can have a profound impact on movement quality, force transmission and CoP (Center of Pressure) development.
3) Feet as a Regulator for Overall Neuromuscular Balance
Balance is a complex process aiming to control the position of the body relative to some specific bases of support.
Muscles responses resulting from neurological inputs (visual, vestibular and proprioceptive) needs an optimal foot function in order for the CoM (Center of Mass) to pass medially inside the foot and maintain dynamic balance (Winter, 2009).
The segmental nature of the foot with its different grades of rigidity and mobility can affect the proprioceptive signals through the movement of foot and ankle joints, changing the contact points with the ground and starting compensatory strategies affecting the whole lower kinetic chain (Moon, Kim and Lee, 2014).
To the eyes of the smartest coach, training the feet is an essential aspect of the planning process. At the same time it does not have to be an isolated aspect, rather it means to understand how a reduced adaptive capability of the structures of the foot can negatively impact performance.
This is the key to really address foot function in the context of high performance, staying as far away as possible from any reductionist approach.
Moon DC, Kim K, Lee SK, Immediate effect of short-foot exercise on dynamic balance of subjects with excessively pronated feet, J Phys Ter Sci, 2014 Jan;26(1):117-9.
Winter, DA (2009) Biomechanics and motor control of human movement. 4th edn. John Wiley & Sons.
Antonio Robustelli is the mastermind behind Omniathlete Performance Science. He is a professional high performance consultant and elite s&c coach from Italy: his area of expertise includes injury prevention, sports technology, strength training programming, speed development, recovery monitoring and return to play assessment. He works all over the world since 16 years with semi-professionals, professionals and Olympic athletes as well as professional teams in various disciplines. Regularly invited as a Keynote Speaker to hold lectures during international conferences in Sports Science and Strength & Conditioning, he is also an Editorial Advisory Board member of the Lower Extremity Review, the most authoritative magazine for lower extremity biomechanics, sports medicine and rehabilitation. Currently he is consultant for Federations, Governing Bodies, Olympians and for First Division football and basketball teams in Europe, Asia and USA.