Look at almost any muscle diagram in a gym today and it appears as if the muscles of the body simply stop at the calves. In reality, there are more than a dozen muscles in each foot, yet the fitness industry has almost completely ignored the labeling and study of foot muscles (Cook, 2003). More than any other muscles of the body, our feet literally carry us through our lives, so it’s important that we understand, train and implement efficient self-care of this important area of the body.
Learning the Terms
Morton’s Toe: Morton’s Toe exists when the first toe of the foot is longer than the big toe. While this alone means nothing in terms of one’s individual abilities, research indicates an overall tendency of those with Morton’s Toe in one or both feet to be prone to trips, slips, ankle sprains and shin splints.
Transverse Arch: When the ball of the foot contacts the floor, this is a diad contact, touching the ground with the area of the foot between and below the big toe and the small toe. This imaginary line forms the transverse arch.
Longitudinal Arch: The long line formed between the soft part of the diad below the middle toe to the heel bone is the longitudinal arch.
Foot Triangle: The triad foot strike or stance is formed when bodyweight is evenly placed on the ends of the transverse arch and the end of the longitudinal arch on the heel, spreading the weight out along an imaginary triangle.
Ankle Noise: Stand on one foot and try to balance. Notice that altering your vision (e.g., looking up, down, and/or closing your eyes without moving your head), tilting your head in different directions without changing your eye focus and combining the two all alter ankle and foot stability because they affect balance. These manipulations create movements of the proprioceptors of the feet and ankles called ankle noise. Proper barefoot training involves creating appropriate amounts of ankle noise for the foot complex to respond positively over time (Cohen, 1997).
Putting it Into Practice
Strength/Endurance: Toe Taps
Big Toe Taps: Sit or stand, depending on what works best for you. Lift all of the toes of both feet off of the floor as much as possible and keep them lifted. Tap just the big toe to the ground as many times as possible in 60 seconds before resting all toes down. If any of the other toes touch the floor, restart the exercise.
Other Toe Taps: Keeping just the big toes off of the floor, tap the remaining toes to the ground as many times as possible in 60 seconds before resting. If either big toe touches the floor during that time, restart the exercise.
Inversion/Eversion: Sit comfortably at the edge of a chair with feet flat on the floor, hip-width distance apart. Roll the bottoms of the feet toward each other (inversion) and then away from each other (eversion), allowing knee and leg movement. Repeat slowly for 60 seconds. Repeat this foot movement for another 60 seconds, this time minimizing the movement at the knee, concentrating on feeling the ankles work more. This helps to improve standing balance and overall foot stability (Wolf, 1996). If appropriate, repeat this movement while standing.
Single-leg Standing Balance: Stand comfortably on your non-dominant leg. Contract the muscles of the core and lightly press the tongue to the roof of your mouth. Practice inverting and everting the ankle—as done in the previous exercise—then raise the toes and then heels, alternating among these four movements for 60 seconds. Repeat this sequence on the dominant leg.
Finding Active Feet: Grip the floor with your toes until you notice wrinkles forming on the top of the toes. Gradually reduce the tension so that you don’t see or feel this clenching, but still feel “active feet,” feeling the triad points of contact of the longitudinal and transverse arch touch the floor.
Standing Opposition: Draw the toes of one foot toward your shin (dorsiflexion of the ankle), while simultaneously pressing the toes of the opposite foot into the ground (plantarflexion of the ankle). Maintain this position for 30 seconds and reverse the movement on each side.
Anterior Tibialis Unilateral Stretch: Plantarflex one ankle to stretch this muscle for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Gastrocnemius/Soleus Unilateral Stretch: Dorsiflex one ankle to stretch this muscle group for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Seated Piriformis Stretch: Sit comfortably at the edge of a chair and place the left ankle across the right knee. Gently press the left knee toward the floor to stretch this deep muscle, whose flexibility greatly impacts overall foot, ankle, and gait stability and mobility. After stretching for at least 30 seconds, repeat this stretch on the opposite side.
Cohen, K.S. (1997). The Way of Qigong, New York: Ballantine.
Cook, G. (2003). Athletic Body in Balance. Human Kinetics: Champaign, Ill.
Wolf, S.L. et al. (1996), Reducing frailty and falls in older persons: An investigation of
tai chi and computerized balance training. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 44, 487-497.