August 29, 2012

Foot awakening sequence (suitable for pronation, overly high arches, foot and ankle mobility)


Pronation is a necessary mechanism the body employs as part of its efforts to distribute forces acting on it as widely as possibly. But modern life has removed much of the stimulation the brain needs to know how to form the arch of the foot (shoes remove environmental sensory feedback almost completely). The result is that over-pronation is common (according to Nike's research, about 70% of the running population). Over-pronation leads to bunions, in time. And less talked about is the situation where the foot is *insufficiently* flexible—this is most commonly seen in people with high or very high arches.

This long sequence will take you through how to awaken (or re-awaken) the connection between the mind and the feet—essential to maximise proprioception, accuracy of knees tracking and much more besides. In the process you will learn to spread your toes, and feel exactly how the body is distributing its weight through the feet. Over-pronation will be reduced, and rigid feet will become more supple. 

Read transcription

Kit Laughlin:

What I'd like to work on today is a foot sequence. The reason I'm shooting this is because we've had so many requests from Coach Sommer's site, where I made a long posting about how to correct alignment of pronating ankles, that is ankles that roll inwards like this. And as I mentioned the other day, the sure fire way to know whether or not your feet pronate under load is to see whether or not there's callouses on the inside of the joint of the big toe here and here. Because if you have calluses there, it's not just from your shoes. It's from the fact that when you push off, when your heel lifts when you drive, using the glutes and the quads and all the other muscles of your legs when you drive off, the big toe gets pushed to the side.

So everyone stand up, please, and stand on the floor and lift up your toes like this. This is the first of the exercises to learn how you naturally place your weight through your feet. Now, if you're like most people – and according to the Nike research about seventy percent of the population pronate; I think it's actually higher than that, under load, but it's something like that. If you're like most people, when you stand like this and feel where the weight's going through your feet, for most people they feel it through the heel and through the joint of the big toe. Is that what most of you are feeling? So without looking at your feet, and I might just roll up my trousers to demonstrate this. Without looking at your feet, ask yourself, how can I feel the floor across the whole of the front of the foot, not just the inside of the front of the foot? Can you all feel that?

And when you do that and look down at your own ankles, you'll see they're perfectly, perfectly aligned. Can you all see that? Even if you have ankles that roll in, once you can feel the outside of the front of the foot, as well as the inside, your ankles are perfectly aligned. And in fact, when we look at the bottom of the foot later, you'll see it's a tripod. It's made up at this point, this point and this point, and there are three arches in the feet, and I'll demonstrate that later. But here's the interesting thing. If I turn around, and if you watch the back of my legs, rolling in on the inside of the feet and rolling out like this, that control has nothing to do with the feet. That control actually comes from the external rotators. The whole of the leg turns in and out like this.

It's the turning of the leg in the hip socket that actually transfers the weight from the inside of the foot to the outside. Can you all feel that? If you do this yourself, you can actually watch. I mean, I'm exaggerating these movements, of course; it's much more subtle than this. Can you feel that it actually doesn't take any effort to transfer the weight to the outside of your feet. And you just do it again and feel that. It's actually only a choice of where you decide to place your weight. And so, and this is the key thing. In the bottom of the feet here, the soles of the feet, I mentioned this yesterday, the proprioceptors and mechanoreceptors, the sense organs, are most numerous in the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand. And so if you're used to having more weight on this side of the foot here, that'll just be normal for you.

By lifting up your toes, you take that sensory input away. Just lift up your toes now, everyone. And you can feel straight away where the weight's going through your feet. So whenever you're standing around, the fastest way to remap this and to get arches back in your feet, is just to ask yourself, "Where's the weight going through my feet right now?" Put a tiny bit of weight on the outside of the foot, and then forget it. So sit down please, and we'll run through the foot sequence that will help you wake up the bottom of the feet firstly. And secondly, help the all important toe spread. And I'll talk about this a little later, but I'll only say this now, that wearing the five finger shoes has completely changed my own feet. And I've been wearing them now and walking and running barefoot as well for about six years now.

Whereas once upon a time I had calluses on the inside of my joint of the big toe and the toe itself. I ran competitively for many years, but since I've started wearing the five fingers, and you can have a look at my shoes later, they wear out here. They wear out on the tip of the little toe and the second toe. And no shoes wear out there. Shoes always wear out in this part of the foot here. So what happens, once the bottom of the foot is stimulated by things sticking into the bottom of it literally, what happens is the whole foot does this action. All the muscles in the foot become immensely stronger. This circumference around here has increased by about 10% in six years. And that's all muscles that are intrinsic to the foot. So the sequence this morning is designed firstly, to get the foot as mobile as possible.

And you're about to find out just how rigid your feet are. As mobile as possible, and as strong as possible. And once the brain's connection to the bottom of the feet is woken up, you'll find that automatically, especially if you prompt yourself every now and again to put weight on the outside of your feet, you can change the alignment of your feet in about a year or so. Providing this bone here is not displaced medially, and no one here in the room has that – that's true flat feet – you can change how your brain uses the feet in a very short order. So this is how we do it.

First please, put your foot one leg up on the other leg like this. And now watch, I'm going to pull the little toe down like this and insert my finger. And then watch the next, you simply interlace your fingers in between your toes and watch, try to pull the fingers right into the foot. Oh, that's just... Julie, you should see the look on your face dear, it's priceless. And please don't tell me, we've heard every variation on the proportionally challenge argument you can possibly imagine. I've heard guys say, "Listen, my fingers are like sausages. There's no way I'm going to..." Of course. Okay so, you've got your hand ... has everyone managed to do that?

And Gerry, you'll want to pull your fingers as deeply in as possible, and it will feel uncomfortable in the beginning. The first time I ran this sequence in class you should have seen the looks, the resentful looks, that I was getting from people. But I just remind you, these are your feet? My feet feel fine. So you've got your fingers in there. Now watch. Holding the heel here, wring the foot. Now, this is only to stretch the skin. It's got nothing to do with ... we'll actually be doing some exercises for inversion eversion and to stretch the arch itself.

But this is basically just to separate the toes. Now look, there's another matter here too. As someone, I had have had tinea very badly in the past, this is very common again with runners. But once I'd done these exercises and the toes actually separated from one another, absolutely no problems for at least five years now. So I share that with you. So just twist and wring. And watch, put some effort into it and twist the whole foot around. And really, we're only working on the toes here, as I said. And then watch. Take the hand out of the feet. Put your heel on the ground like this. Pull the little toe away from the second toe like this. If you look closely, you can see I'm getting a full 90 degrees of separation there. And then pull the little toe back at the same time as pushing the second toe forward like this.

Now feel how that wrings the skin in between the little toe and the big toe? And then watch. Pull this back and push the other one forward. So what we want, in fact, is we want full suppleness of the skin and the fascia of the feet. Now, look at the next ones. Pull that apart and you can see that that can go to 90 degrees eventually. Now, don't pull too hard because the skin will tear if it's not supple, but eventually it will become extremely supple. Then again, push and pull, and push and pull in the opposite direction. Next joints. Pull apart, push and pull, push and pull. And last, big toe. That's not a problem for anyone usually.

And now, go and have a look at the actual joints of your feet. And perhaps you'll be surprised to learn there are just as many joints in the little toe as there are in all the other toes. But if you look at your little toe, you'll find that for most people there's not a huge amount of mobility there. So just bend each joint. And if, for example, you can see that this joint doesn't want to bend backwards, then do this. Hold the second joint and pull the tip of the little toe backwards. That'll help straighten that. And then have a look at the rest of your toes. And I just make this side comment, the feet are the most ignored part of everyone's bodies.

So then if you look at this joint here, I've injured this one in the past, so I'm going to hold the second joint and pull the tip of the toe up to stretch that joint. Same with the next toe and the next toe. Then grasp the toes and wring them like this. Twist and pull, twist and pull, twist and pull. Any questions about that part of the sequence? I'm twisting and pulling like this. And of course you might get the odd crack. Feels nice. No. Twist both ways. So I did like this and like this. We're trying to wring, wring all the skin out. And then watch. Get into the position like this. Now, see how I pulled that little toe out? And if I turn and face away from you, it depends on the design of your foot. What we're trying to get is we're trying to get the whole of the ball of the foot on the ground here.

Now, if in your feet, if this little toe is set well down the foot, you're going to need to have to press the heel out slightly. Let me just show you what I mean by that. In order to get the whole of the ball of the foot on the ground, you might need to press the heel out slightly like this. But the exercise that we're going to do, we want at least 90 degrees bend in the toes here. Now, watch what I'm doing. I'm leaning my whole body's weight down through this arm. And then watch the knee here. While keeping the ball of the foot on the floor, I slide the knee forward until I get a stretch in the foot. Can you all feel that?

You should see the look on your face, Ann. And then, of course a contraction can be done. Press the toes of your feet through the floor as though you were trying to point the toes. Can you all feel that? And stop. Ine, I love that look on your face. And then watch? Slide the knee a bit further forward. Now see the bend that we're getting here? We want at least that. And relax. Now, sit on the floor like this. I'm just going to leave my foot on the floor, but you can do this on your mat if you want. Remember when you're sitting in this position here, you push the calf muscle out of the way. I don't think we've run through this sequence yet, but that just relieves any stress on the knee. Make sure that your foot is pointing straight backwards, please.

And then watch this. Lift. If you lift the knee straight off the floor, keeping weight on your hip, you stretch the arch of the foot. Can everyone feel that? But if you then lean away from the hip a little and lift the knee up higher and then put weight on it, you're actually stretching your toes. Can you feel that? Different part of the foot. Now, try to drag the toes through the floor towards your knee and relax, put a bit more weight on that hip, and lift up a bit further. Now, some of you are going to find that when you stretch the instep of your foot, that the muscles here are going to cramp. And if that happens, put the foot into this position like this, and simply press the knee forward like this. And relax. And when you're ready, stand up.

And now, spread the toes apart and you should be able to see immediately by looking at your feet, which foot you just worked. Look at the difference here and here. Yes, there's that. And also one the toes just spread apart like mad and in the other. Well, I've watched people very frustrated trying to get their little toe in particular to move. And so I've seen people concentrating, "Move, move, move." And nothing's actually happening in the little toe. Now in the beginning, when I first started doing these exercises, all my toes were together. This is about six years now. And they're all separated and wearing the five fingers helped that enormously too. So should we run through the sequence on the other side? And also, I don't know whether this is a stretch, if you'll excuse the pun, but when you feel the bottom of your feet, can you feel the foot that you've worked on?

Is it different to the other foot? It's completely different, isn't it? And there was actually something I missed out in that sequence. So we'll go back to the same foot. And let me just put this in now. In this position here, what I want to do now is I actually want to turn the forefoot as far as possible in both directions. So this is how we do it. You wrap your fingers around the top of the foot. You place the thumb against the ball of the foot like this. And you literally put the other hand over the top and then watch. With the ankle at about 900 degrees, you literally turn the sole of the foot up to the ceiling. Can you all feel that? That's a massive stretch for these muscles here. And if you've ever sprained your ankle, it will also stretch the ligaments here too. You can probably feel that.

Now, try to twist the foot back in the opposite direction. And go further. This whole sequence, by the way, is in the unnumbered lesson, which no one ever reads. And then turn your hands over and watch, stretch the foot the other way. We want maximum mobility in the foot in all directions. And you can also do a contraction here too. If I go like this, then try to twist back the other way, and go a bit further. Now, when you are just jogging, each part of your foot takes around two and a half times your own weight. These are immensely strong structures. When you're doing jumping – we would coach, we were working with Coach Sommer recently and we were doing jumping and bounding practice – when you are doing those exercises where you're literally bouncing off the Achilles tendon, it's about, I think from memory, it's four or five times your body's weight. And when they swing around the high bars, it's about 14 times their body's weight they experience; so not the feet, of course, the hands.

Okay. So go to the other foot now, please. And we'll do the same sequence. Separate, separate. Oh, and don't be surprised to find that your left and right feet are quite different too. No one knows the reason why, but most people's right foot is bigger than their left foot. Have you noticed that? No, absolutely no relationship at all, which is interesting. Also has nothing to do with leg length difference either. For some reason, people's right feet are bigger. A quarter to half a size normally. Okay. So once you've got the fingers ... ha ha ha ha, I'm not saying anything ... hold your heel and slowly twist the foot to feel the sensations in the feet. And really wring the foot out. It'll be more intense by the way, if you can really pull the fingers right into; in time you'll be able to pull the fingers right into the joint.

Okay. So then there's another thing we can do. Squeeze the fingers together like this around the toes, feel that? And then drive the heel of the palm into the bottom of the foot to pull the toes out of the foot. Can everyone feel how to do that? Yeah, like that. And then out. Start with the little toe side of the foot, pull that toe out to the side as far as you can. This one is a bit bent on my foot, I think I've broken it before, so I normally give it a bit of a straighten as well. Pull out wide like this, and then watch; push and pull, push and pull in the opposite direction. Stretch apart, push and pull, push and pull, stretch apart. Stretch apart, push and pull, push and pull, stretch apart, push and pull. Then check the joints; we want every joint to move properly. And just like fingers, you might want to stretch individual joints. I know I like to.

And then twist, twist, twist. And then we'll do this one first. Like this. Pull the little toe out to the side, if it doesn't want to go out to the side. Press the heel away from the midline of your body a little bit to make sure that the whole of the ball of the foot is on the ground. And then watch to get the stretch lean your body's weight through this arm like so. And then just slide the knee forward along the floor. Room for improvement. Now, press the toes into the floor hard. And stop, relax, breathe in, and slide the foot a fraction further. And this is, we want at least 90 degrees here, as I mentioned. And lean and let the foot relax. There'll be tremendous resistance to allowing the foot to relax. Agreed? Let it go soft.

Then make sure the foot is pointing straight behind you. When I say straight behind you, this is what the foot wants to do. It wants to go in like this. Don't allow that to happen. So straight behind you. Let's do the stretch in two stages. This is what I mean. Here, while leaning weight on this hip, if you lift the knee off the ground, you'll feel the stretch in the instep. Can everyone feel that? So in that position there we can, we can repeat the contraction, try to drag the toes through the floor, relax. And then that's an instep stretch – and you can't possibly have a good foot point unless the instep's loose enough to allow that to happen; is that obvious?

Then watch. Lean away, lift up onto the actual toes themselves, and then lean weight back onto the foot. And now stretch toes. Jane, I wish I had the camera on you; that face is priceless. Just remember everyone, this is your body hurting you, not me. Breathe and relax. Let everything go soft. Ah. And if the foot cramps, this is where it'll happen, then just do this; that'll settle it down immediately. Absolutely, absolutely. Look, when we first went... Absolutely. When we first started doing Sommer's gymnastics protocol, I was saying, "God, anyone else when you point your feet, does it really, really cramp?" And he said something like, "Well, look. The first 10,000 times you pointed your feet really hard they'll cramp. And after that, they stop cramping."

And in our group – Liv, just correct me if you have a different perspective here. In our group, the cramping has lessened considerably in the last five months or so. And so I can point really hard now and they don't cramp. I can feel the muscles all working, but they're not going into spasm. Whereas before when I did this, I'd have to do this. It still happens sometimes, but not very often. Okay. So stand up now and let's see. Now, can you see all of the toes spread better, all of them? And doesn't that feel different in the feet? In fact, they look great. The right one, that second toe on the right. No; so call it the fourth toe then in that case. That toe, yeah, that one doesn't want to sit down.

So spread your toes apart like this, lift them up, spread, put them on the ground like this, and then watch. Grip, so the tips of the toes bend backwards. Best to do this on the floor. So reach them out, spread them, and grip. Now, can you feel that's one set of muscles in your feet? Now do this where you simply pull the toes under and that's a completely different set of muscle. Can you feel that? One and two. This one here where the tips of the toes bend backwards, that's what lifts the arch off of the ground. Can you see it? Whereas doing this doesn't have in my feet, it doesn't have as strong an effect. You get that happening. And when you're wearing the five fingers, the arch forms simply as the body's natural response to take as much of the foot away from what you're standing on as possible. And that's why the toes wear out. When you look at the five fingers, you'll see they put a double... Could you just throw me, you've got a pair there? Thanks.

If you look here, these have completely worn off. And in the beginning, there's a double layer on the tips of all of the toes. And the little toe wears out as I said. Now, one other thing, try coming up on the balls of your feet like this. Come up as high as possible. And if you look down in your own feet, when you do this, the arch is perfectly, perfectly formed. Can you all see that? But only if you've got your weight evenly spread over the whole of the foot. So that's another exercise you can do. And there's another one where you hang your heels off a step. Let the ankles pronate, come up to neutral with the ankles in a good form position, and then very slightly emphasize the outside of the foot as you come right up high. And that forms the arch in the foot. Are there any questions about the sequence?


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