Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci, once described the foot as a “masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Complex and ingenious indeed, our feet bear the brunt of daily living. They tirelessly carry us around from place to place and hold us upright as we move through life.
However, there is much more to these little levers dangling from the bottom of our legs than convenient “ground” transportation. In fact, our feet and their connection to the earth are crucial for proper movement, balance, strength, stability and body awareness. They arguably do so much for us, yet we often take them for granted.
Nearly One Quarter of Your Body’s Bones are in Your Feet!
Complex and hardworking, these marvels of engineering are the foundation to the human body. The body contains 206 bones, but did you know that fifty-two of them reside in the feet? That’s nearly one quarter of all the body’s bones! Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and soft connective tissues. There are more nerves in your feet than anywhere else in the body. They are a treasure trove of proprioception, constantly sensing and interpreting signals from the ground up, to inform the brain of the terrain that lies beneath so that we can keep our balance as we stand or move. These signals happen at lightning speed to help the brain figure out the required degree of muscle tension and joint activation necessary for the monumental task of transferring body weight.
However, when the feet are unable to do the job, they were meant to do, because they are enclosed in shoes, those signals from feet to brain begin to dull and we become “foot blind” to the environment. This sends these appendages into auto-pilot due to sensory “underload.” Shoes, while certainly built for comfort, take away the stress that the feet and ankles should be dealing with and adapting to continuously. .
Our Bodies are Supported in Many Ways from the Feet Up
Our bodies and feet are shaped by their landscape. So, when we interfere with the incoming biological signals being transmitted between ground and feet, we simultaneously create stress or overcompensation elsewhere in the body by putting strain on other tissues that are now forced to pick up the slack for the feet. When our feet rely on an external support system like the sole of a shoe (think: “walking on clouds”), the muscles and connective tissue no longer need to work very hard. Which means they no longer need to support themselves. This can eventually lead to weakness and stiffness in the joints, tendons and ligaments and an overall instability affecting entire kinetic chains.
Imagine wearing mittens on your hands, day in and day out – playing the piano, typing on the computer, or cooking dinner – you get the picture. Besides being seriously frustrating, it would also be incredibly ineffective, limit range of motion, dexterity and sense of touch. This is what happens to our feet when they are constantly in shoes. These babies need to get back to work!
If you are not used to going au naturel, start slow. Too much, too soon, can backfire
Our bodies are feedback loops. So, when we ditch the sneakers, setting our tootsies free, we allow a vital feedback mechanism to kick back into gear. Essentrics® workouts are all done barefoot (no socks or shoes) to strengthen the bones and muscles of the feet, while also improving their mobility. The more stimuli your sensory organs can absorb the less work the rest of your body has to do to keep you balanced and upright. Body awareness and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space) increase as does overall stability and range of motion as the body becomes more integrated, working as a unit.
If you are not used to going au naturel start slow and listen to what your body is telling you. Too much loading on weak arches and stiff feet done too quickly can backfire. Start by learning proper foot activation to help get you off on the right foot (bad pun intended!). First, kick off your “Keds!” Next, take a few moments to feel the plantar surface of the foot (the sole), and make contact with the floor/ground beneath you (it’s ok to linger!). Next, spread even pressure across the base of both your big and pinky toe, as well as your heel – this is what we refer to as the foot tripod. This is a great way to begin activating the intrinsic muscles of the foot.
Click the video below and follow along with Miranda Esmonde-White as she takes you through a short foot activation sequence that can be incorporated into your daily routine!
Unlock- Feet, Ankles & Calves
with Miranda Esmonde-White – Excerpt
As a final note, it’s important to think about building strength in our feet just as we would with any other part of our body. Because the foot is so intricate and has the necessary equipment to move, it’s important to set them free whenever you get the chance!
We are not saying to ditch your shoes entirely, this would not be practical, safe, or realistic – but what we are saying is, start to get reacquainted with your bare feet. The health of your entire body will thank you!
Contributing writer Lisa Mozo