At some point in each of our lives our bodies learned how to raise our centre of mass away from the ground by finally placing the bottoms of our feet on the ground. This would have been an exciting time as the extraordinarily high density of sensory receptors in our feet would finally have a significant reasons to light up.
With over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, 26 separate bones, and 33 joints, the foot and specifically the arch likely evolved for a role as specialized as the thumb and fingers did for fine manual control (Rolian et al. 2010). The foot, rather than serving as rigid base of support, is in an active, flexible state and is sensitive to minute perturbations even if the entire hind and midfoot is stably supported and the ankle joint is unperturbed.
Our initial experiments with standing are paramount to the development of not only proper foot and ankle function but of the body awareness and control against gravity for our entire functioning system. The brilliant challenge of gravity provides us a tremendous number of opportunities to perfect our quest to stand. If we attempt to stand 10 times gravity will knock us down 10 times giving us an opportunity to attempt standing for the 11th time. Eventually however, even gravity is no match for our rapidly adapting sensory motor system and we learn to use our upper extremity to support us in getting up and standing and later we are able to stand in free form.
It sounds relatively easy and most of us do master this skill set as we generally don’t worry gravity ripping us back down to Earth too often in our day to day activities.
So why worry about it now and why devote an entire section of the Fundamental Series to learning how to stand?
Quite simple really. Most of us get off the ground poorly. How many of you grown or grunt each time you get onto the ground or chair and then again when you stand back up? Doesn’t really seem like a movement requiring maximal effort but most of us do indeed suffer from inefficiency each and every time we attempt to lower our selves and then stand back up again.
But why, if we learn to do it so well when we are young?
Obviously there are individual factors at play. Sports or work injuries, etc.
But there are a few reasons for this poor motor control that are common to nearly all of us:
From the time our parents have an opportunity to slap their fashion sense on us we begin wearing shoes. Gone are the days of barefoot running through grass fields and climbing trees replaced by shoe wearing walks on pavement. As soon as we remove the foot ground interface we are decreasing the ability of our sensory receptors to provide incredibly precise details of our weight distribution, ground conditions and foot positioning.
While shoe-wearing doesn’t change the musculature of the fore-foot, it does change the pliability of the fore-foot, resulting in lower pliability for people who wear shoes. Modern shoes have a narrow toe box and medial arch supports, leading to decreased natural function of the foot. Your toes cannot spread as they do when barefoot, so the muscles of your feet don’t get the relaxation they need on a regular basis.
Most running shoes create very real sensory deprivation. Aboriginal barefooters pick up specific information about their environment from their feet. Your skin absorbs all kinds of elements from the environment around it. Contact with the earth provides not only information about temperature and texture but also information about soil health, which is directly related to your own health.
The sole of your foot has over 200,000 nerve endings in it, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in the body. Our feet are designed to act as earthward antennae, helping us balance and transmitting information to us about the ground we’re walking on.
North Americans have the most advanced shoes in the world, yet 90 percent of us still develop problems? We’ve long assumed this means we need better shoes. Maybe it means we don’t need shoes at all.
Golf shoes specifically have traditionally been a mind field of horrors for the feet. The extremely rigid soles stole the ability of our feet to move in the sagittal (front to back), frontal (side to side) and transverse (left to right twisting) planes. These shoes braced us in an attempt to create stability. This stability may have had some benefit for certain golfers hitting balls on the range but definitely didn’t help any golfers who needed to use their feet to walk 5 to 7 miles around a golf course each day. For this reason many of the golfers from years gone by and the older players from the modern game walk with more of a pull from their hips then a proper toe off and push from the hips. Take a look at Phil Mickelson walk the next time he strolls down the fairway on your tv screen. This pull version of gait requires an over recruitment of the hip flexors (psoas, iliacus, tfl, adductors and rectus femoris) and spinal erectors and inhibition of the hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteal muscles).
I could write an entire chapter of a book on the negative effects of shoes (maybe I will). But the lesson here is our shoes have negatively affected our sensory system’s ability to tell us where we are, what we are touching and where our body weight is. None of this is good news for athletic performance when the smallest divergence on body position can create major issues to our performance. What is the effect of 2 degrees clubface change anyways? Oh yeah, it’s a big deal.
Lets learn to use our feet and more importantly don’t brace your kids. Let them move freely in those biological engineering wonders.
Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.” In other words: Feet good. Shoes bad.
Our body is a kinetic chain. What this means is that a movement or stress in one body part will have an effect all the way through the body reaching even the most distal parts.
Stand up and look into a full body mirror. Notice how your shoulders levels are compared to each other, notice the direction your knee caps are pointing. Now, let the arch of your right foot collapse towards the ground.
What did you notice?
Some of the easiest things to notice are your right knee would have pointed more to the left and your right shoulder would be now lower than your left. This obviously has an effect on the muscles attaching from the right shoulder into your neck. Hmm, changing the position of my right foot causes my arm and shoulder to change positions?
They don’t teach you that in school but its true.
Conversely the body can work in the other direction as well. If your shoulder or neck changes position it will affect your center of mass and the distribution of forces to your feet.
For example, many of you reading this will be sitting down. Sitting, just like you have for thousands of hours since you started going to school. This chronic maintenance of slouched posture greatly affects the positioning of our head on our shoulders and position of our shoulders and upper back. All this requires a compensatory change in the lower extremity to help maintain the head within our base of support (feet) and keep our eyes level.
The whole Fundamental Series is a means of correcting the negative product of a lifetime of poor posture so why would this section be any different?
Inertia: A body in motion will stay in motion unless an external force is applied. A body not in motion will remain motionless unless an external force is applied. Most of us are in relative inert state. We groan when we need to begin and end motion because we are not used to performing movement and we definitely don’t do it efficiently.
We are going to change this.
Our first exercise section in the Primate Series will look at the Turkish crunch. This exercise teaches us how to move from our back into a single arm assisted moisture. The second exercise will be the Partial Get Up. This exercise takes us from the single arm assisted posture to a posture where we are supported by both feet and one hand while pushing our hips into extension.
The second exercise section in this series will look at the Kneeling to Standing exercise and the Full Get Up
The Kneeling to Standing will teach us how to move from a kneeling position into a lunge position and then up to standing before returning to a kneeling position.
The Full Get Up combines the movements we learn in the first 3 exercises into a full body complex teaching us how to move from lying on our back to a full standing posture before retuning to lying with our backs on the ground.