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Optimizing Sports Performance: Foot Strengthening

Foot Strengthening For Athletes

By: Phil Loomis

Everyone loves their footwear! Many people are devoted fanatics of a certain brand. Others need to make a trend assertion with their kicks and some just have to put on something that’s snug. As efficiency coaches, there’s little question we love our footwear and the athletes we coach are not any totally different.

That stated, it’s straightforward to miss the ft typically because they are encased within the latest shoe innovation. However once we take these footwear off and look down at our ft what can we see?

Is it a dull club?  Can you even feel your ft? Are your toes scrunched collectively? Does your forefoot flare out? Is there a quite disproportionate concave bulge close to the medial subtalar joint/inside ankle?

Typically taking a look at an athlete’s bare ft are you able to tell you numerous.

I was slightly overwhelmed with the place to start out because there’s SO MUCH, I consider coaches want to concentrate on with regard to not only the structure of the foot/ankle complicated however primarily its perform.

The foot/ankle complicated typically is the only point of contact with the bottom. It should act as both cellular adaptor and spring-like lever inside the similar movement.[i] There’s a superb line between mobility and stability and a finely tuned sensorimotor system is significant for optimization of gait. Motor enter dictates motor output, whether it’s optimal or not is what we have to discover.

Ron Hruska of the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) has noted that the non-manual methods (corrective workouts) utilized by PRI take place with the ft grounded on a wall/flooring. Hruska says to “plant it, sense it.”  The plantar floor of our ft is wired for strain and perturbation which allows us to innately sense the position of our joints/body.

Hruska also describes the foot as a transducer. A concept that in my mind has untapped and vital implications for efficiency/motion coaches. A transducer is something that converts a signal in a single type of power to a signal in another, like an antenna.

The ft act as sensory receivers that transduce info from the ground/ground up to the mind stem. Hruska also described the plantar surface of the ft as preceptors (in Latin this means warned) that present feedforward info. Without this warning the afferent enter is skewed and we lose variability (eversion, inversion, supination, pronation…) or the aforementioned cellular adaptor perform.

The following is a wonderful instance from Dr. Evan Osar on how this warning sign may be skewed and lead to biomechanical compensation.

The aim through the loading of the foot is to spread the metatarsals so as to create a reflexive response and optimally load the primary ray of the foot. If this movement is blocked by a inflexible arch foot, an orthotic insert, or a shoe with comparatively stiff instep (to stop excessive pronation), the nervous system will acknowledge this and make compensations to assist improve the medial loading and metatarsal spreading of the foot. One widespread means is to drive the knee by means of the frontal aircraft into a more valgus place to help load the medial facet of the foot. [ii] – Dr. Evan Osar

If the foot can’t pull within the info it wants, as a consequence of, in this case, a structural block, our neuromuscular system will try to tug that info from one other supply. A supply that isn’t ideally suited to do so as a result of it lacks the anticipatory potential of the foot.

At an NSCA conference Dr. Emily Splichal (an authority on the foot/ankle complicated) described the small nerve proprioceptors within the plantar skin and fascia as having the potential to be anticipatory.  Whereas the massive nerve proprioceptors such as the Golgi tendon organs and the muscle spindles are much slower and extra reactive in nature.

I feel we will all agree that the loading technique described above by Dr. Osar would is non-optimal. If knee valgus (on this case) is the athlete’s most popular technique to medially load the foot, it was a reactionary response initiated after the warning from the small nerve proprioceptors was blocked.

As coaches we need to develop strategies to make sure that athletes are usually not neglecting the facility of this anticipatory/feedforward perform of the foot/ankle complicated.

Earlier than we will optimally develop these strategies nevertheless, there are a couple of key concepts that must be highlighted.

Muscle Tuning Concept

Dr. Benno Nigg proposed the muscle tuning concept within the Medical Journal of Sports Drugs in 2001. Nigg said the following:

Influence forces (from operating) are input alerts that produce muscle tuning shortly before the subsequent contact with the ground to attenuate smooth tissue vibration and/or scale back joint and tendon loading.

Nigg followed up his research in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering with the implications of an un-tuned landing.

The themes: 13 male runners exposed to 3 totally different environments; expected mushy, sudden onerous and anticipated arduous landings.

For the sudden touchdown there was no muscle adaptation, as topics didn’t know the operating surface was going to vary. In help of the muscle-tuning idea an increase in the smooth tissue acceleration did occur.

Practically talking it takes a couple of steps for the muscle mass to turn out to be tuned to a floor. As soon as the body tunes to that floor, anticipatory muscle tuning occurs to dampen delicate tissue vibration and decrease joint and tendon loading.

If the surface instantly modifications it could possibly’t be anticipated and the muscle mass can’t match the frequency of the incoming vibrations and there is a sudden improve in joint and tendon loading.

In 1993 I keep in mind watching a Chicago Bears versus Philadelphia Eagles recreation at Veterans Stadium (The Vet). Chicago extensive receiver Wendell Davis ran a move pattern and pulled as much as make an attempt on an underneath thrown cross, no contact each ACLs ruptured!

The Vet was old-fashioned Astroturf, principally a layer of faux grass on prime of concrete/cement.

Based on Dr. Splichal:

In contrast to softer ground surfaces like grass, gravel or dust, onerous, synthetic surfaces like cement, aren’t good at absorbing pressure. When the foot strikes a tough floor like cement, the vibrations truly rebound and double up again into the physique.

That is why shifting on exhausting surfaces is so onerous on the physique. Exhausting surfaces create more stress and fatigue on the connective tissues and bones and contribute in the direction of damage.

Purely speculative on my part nevertheless it’s attainable that Wendell Davis’ muscle mass couldn’t tune to the floor and the sudden influence drive when his ft hit the ground result in joint and tendon loading that exceeded the edge his passive buildings might resist.

Consider all of the non-contact accidents sustained on artificial turf surfaces where the athlete goes down in a heap as if taken down by the dreaded turf monster! Add to that stiff football footwear and attainable ankle taping that locks the foot/ankle up and simply doesn’t permit the athlete to sense and feel the bottom.

foot strengthening turffoot strengthening taped ankle

In Michigan in the course of the winter boots are a necessity. My boots are stiff and motionless and I can’t even feel my ft. If I really feel compelled to run after the canine or take evasive motion in a snow ball battle, I really feel extremely uncoordinated as my foot/ankle are rendered ineffective because of the structure/rigidity of the boots.

Many athletes compete in this giant nerve proprioceptive surroundings which could be very reactionary in nature (versus anticipatory). It’s really a testomony to their athleticism/conditioning that damage charges aren’t greater.

As a follow-up to this final level let’s speak about what happens once we put our footwear on…

Footwear: Good friend or Foe?

In her webinar titled: The Position of Barefoot Science and the Shod Athlete Dr. Emily Splichal states that once we put on our footwear we enter a large nerve (reactive) response surroundings. As previously talked about, this massive nerve setting just isn’t fast sufficient to dissipate influence forces. We have to faucet into that small nerve (anticipatory) response surroundings. We have to be barefoot to optimize this setting.

That stated, it’s merely not practical to take part in sport without footwear so let’s throw that notion out completely.

Fortuitously, there are things we will do even with our footwear on to facilitate these small nerve responses.

A research by Waddington et al.,  looked at subjects’ discrimination between totally different extents of inversion on the ankle with socks on, barefoot, footwear/socks on, and textured insoles with no socks. They concluded that throughout the 36 weeks of the research, movement discrimination scores for the barefoot situation showed vital enchancment.

Additionally they concluded:  the addition of textured insoles to the footwear was discovered to revive movement discrimination back to barefoot levels.

In this case discrimination is sweet, it means better positional consciousness.

One other research by Waddington et al., used 17 elite feminine soccer players underneath 3 circumstances their very own football boot, naked ft, and own soccer boot with textured insoles. Their outcomes showed; Movement discrimination scores have been significantly worse when subjects wore their soccer boots and socks, in contrast with barefoot knowledge collected at the similar time. The substitution of textured insoles for typical clean insoles within the football boots was discovered to restore motion discrimination to barefoot ranges.

They subsequently concluded that; the insole is one facet of soccer boot and sport shoe design that might be modified to offer the sensory suggestions needed for correct foot positioning.

Steinberg et al., 2016 additionally concluded that; the stimulation to the proprioceptive system arising from textured insoles worn for 5 weeks was adequate to enhance the proprioceptive potential and efficiency means of ballet dancers.

So, it seems a nice bridge from barefoot training to sport/competition footwear can be a coaching shoe with a textured insole.

Practical Methods for Narrowing the Gap between Barefoot and Competition Footwear

Step 1 Practice in a small nerve/barefoot setting

Janda et al., said that Brief Foot Train (SFE) improved the place of physique segments and the steadiness of the physique in the standing position by growing afferent inputs from the underside of the foot. Additionally they said that SFE is the first step in sensory motor coaching (proprioceptive coaching) and may improve proprioception and postural stability if applied along with other workouts.[iii]

Brief foot is an incredible strategy for activating the intrinsic muscle tissue of the foot. So how do you execute a short foot?

Soysa et al., said that flexion at the metatarsophalangeal joint and extension at the interphalangeal joint, is an motion hypothesized to activate the foot intrinsic muscle tissue. This group also famous that allowing a toe-curling action to happen is an motion associated with the contraction of extrinsic foot muscle mass. In other phrases, don’t curl your toes if you want to activate the foot intrinsics!

Dr. Emily Splichal’s factors of emphasis when teaching brief foot:

  1. One foot at a time
  2. Working leg knee barely flexed
  3. Establish a foot tripod (expertly explained right here by Dr. Evan Osar)
  4. Unfold the digits
  5. Interact the pelvic flooring
  6. Root the information of the digits to the ground
  7. Maintain for 10 seconds

Brief Foot Demo

A number of passive methods which will permit athletes to more optimally execute brief foot.

Per point quantity 4 above, spreading the digits. Take into consideration athletes that have their ft crammed into athletic footwear (particularly people who apply/play with stiff cleats that always have a slender toe box) for several hours each day. When you’ve got athletes take their footwear and socks off to take a look at their naked ft, then you will typically see toes which might be fairly literally “glued” collectively. In some instances the toes will even cross over. Why is this an enormous deal?

Based on Sue Falsone:

foot strengthening foot

Compressing the toes will lead to pointing the first ray in a more medial place, typically creating a bunion. When we now have a bunion, we do not properly transfer drive from the rear foot to the fore foot; we “fall through” the midfoot, additional driving the compensation.  Repositioning the first ray is crucial in restoring correct foot perform. As soon as we restore this vary of motion, the brief muscle tissues of the foot have room to do their job, allowing activation and strengthening of the necessary proprioceptive muscle tissues. [iv]

foot strengthening toe spreaderFalsone states probably the greatest methods she has found for repositioning the first ray is using toe spreaders. She recommends   starting with 5 minutes day by day working up to 30 minutes. I ask athletes to put on them at residence whereas doing homework and to maintain a pair in their gear bag for street journeys.

One other technique is working on the suppleness of the plantar floor. The perfect technique here is rolling the bottom of your foot over a ball. Start with a much less stiff ball corresponding to a tennis ball. Then, work towards a lacrosse ball and even a golf ball. Move slowly along the foot tripod and keep away from curling/crunching the toes. Imagine spreading the foot broad and maintaining the toes lengthy. Initially the strain might be quite uncomfortable and athletes will are likely to “grip” the foot. When the foot is suppler it will possibly higher serve its “mobile adaptor” perform. This is crucial for absorbing ground reactions forces.

foot strengthening tripod footfoot strengthening ball roll

To take the brief foot actions to the subsequent degree we have to transfer to single leg stance.

In response to Dr. Splichal once we move to single leg stance, we activate the Lateral Line. The glute medius is a part of the Lateral Line.

Sue Falsone states:

In case you activate the glute med, the foot intrinsics will hearth and create a brief foot. Glute med activation and foot perform go hand in hand. [v]

How have you learnt if the athlete’s glute med prompts in single leg stance?

Dr. Splichal states that when an athlete transitions to single leg stance it is best to see the subtalar joint transfer from relative eversion to a more neutral alignment by way of inversion. If the subtalar joint is “stuck” in eversion we need to get the foot speaking to the hips.

Listed here are a number of activities that may assist open the strains of communication between the foot intrinsics and the glute med in a less demanding place than single leg stance.

Aspect Lying knee towards knee

Standing AF IR w/Brief Foot

Step 2 Textured Insoles

The analysis appears very promising with athletes that use textured insoles to enhance proprioceptive capacity and performance potential.

The one caveat though is it appears one of the simplest ways to do this is to make use of them without socks or a really thin sock. The entire concept behind the insoles is for the plantar surface to “connect” with the textured floor of the insole. Most socks are undoubtedly going to intrude with the power of the plantar floor to sense and feel that textured floor. You would attempt placing the insoles in your socks however having personally tried this it doesn’t work that properly.

My suggestion is to have a pair of designated coaching footwear to make use of them in without socks. I’ve used them with ground-based warm-up workouts and “controlled” movement coaching like skipping, crawling, single leg stability workouts and lunge variations.  I have also used them when performing main (squat, hinge, push, pull, and so forth.) and accessory power training patterns.

Step three play your sport/compete!

Lastly, it’s time to hit the ground/courtroom/ice! Go well with up as normal and compete in your regular footwear and socks. Dr. Splichal states that when you practice in that small nerve surroundings (barefoot) and use textured insoles during training there shall be a carryover to gameday! That stated, it’s not magic! You need to persistently practice this option to make that carryover reliable and sustainable. Not only that, but Dr. Splichal made what I assumed was a really profound statement. She advised me that sporting the textured insoles not solely during coaching but in addition in casual footwear (in addition in fact to barefoot love and care) is a type of recovery. Your ft get banged up when they are locked up in stiff and sometimes poorly fit athletic footwear. Subsequently, you’ll be able to reap large dividends in case you deal with your ft after the game or follow.


Our ft are sometimes out of sight but that shouldn’t cover their true potential. As coaches we need to implement strategies that may permit our athletes to harness and refine the power of the foot/ankle complicated to sense and really feel the ground. In turn, it will help them move more effectively.

Different issues:

Huge Toe and Gluteal Amnesia

If an athlete can’t recover from their huge toe (hallux dorsiflexion), then their glutes will probably be restricted of their means to extend the hip (closed chain).

Surface science

As mentioned previously exhausting surfaces are onerous on the physique! Reduce an athlete’s exposure to surfaces like cement, black prime, marble, and turf fields. That is especially true for those constructed upon previous buildings like parking tons).

So, what surfaces are one of the best to train on?

Dr. Splichal says natural surfaces are greatest for optimizing muscle tuning and thus decreasing smooth tissue and connective tissue stress. Surfaces like dust, real grass, and wood flooring notably the sort in dance studios. Some areas might even have tuned operating tracks.

Foot wear

Be sure that the footwear match!  A number of years ago at an event referred to as Pitchapalooza, Dr. Allen Sills (now chief medical officer for the NFL) gave an interesting presentation on a pilot research his group had finished with 7 NFL groups (properly over 200 players involved):

Virtually 50% of players may have one measurement distinction between the left and proper ft.

There have been vast disparities within the length and width of a measurement 12 from totally different manufacturers, as much as 2 full sizes.

In some instances, the identical manufacturer had totally different models in the same measurement that have been as much as 2 sizes totally different.

91% of the athletes concerned have been rolling/falling off the sting of the shoe/foot plate.

Sills offered the following ideas:

  • Most athletes do not know the “true” measurement they want (get them fitted correctly).
  • At the very least 50% may have one measurement difference between left and right (be sure both ft are measured).
  • The type of the shoe is just as essential as the dimensions (totally different positional requirements).

Higher match=better interplay with the floor=much less danger of damage and better pressure transfer from the bottom up.


[i] ” Chapter 26 The athletic foot and ankle.” Sports Damage Prevention and Rehabilitation, by David Joyce and Daniel Lewindon, Routledge, 2016, pp. 346

[ii] ” Chapter four The Hip Complicated.” Corrective Exercise Solutions to Widespread Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction, by Evan Osar, Lotus, 2012, pp. 103.

[iii] Janda V, VaVrova M: Sensory motor stimulation. In: Liebenson C (Ed.), Rehabilitation of the Spine. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1996, pp 319–328.

[iv] “Chapter 7 Somatosensory Control.” Bridging the Gap from Rehab to Performance, by Sue Falsone and Mark Verstegen, On Goal Publications, 2018, pp. 166-167.

[v] “Chapter 7 Somatosensory Control.” Bridging the Gap from Rehab to Performance, by Sue Falsone and Mark Verstegen, On Goal Publications, 2018, pp. 168.

Concerning the Writer:

Coach Phil Loomis is a health skilled and vitamin coach at Life Time Athletic in Bloomfield, MI in addition to a power and conditioning coach for the Michigan Purple Sox in Birmingham, MI. He was also the top coach and CEO of Eternally Slot in Troy, MI. He’s at present certified as a Power and Conditioning Specialist, Youth Athletic Improvement Specialist, and a Velocity and Agility Specialist. Coach Loomis can also be a Corrective Exercise Specialist, and a Precision Vitamin Certified Coach among others.

Coach Loomis played Division 1 school baseball. It was then that he developed the appreciation for the impression that off-field efficiency training and vitamin can have for creating athletes.  His passion for youth and sports activities efficiency lead him to start out Endlessly Fit. His coaching expertise has lead him to develop a deep appreciation for corrective exercise and long-term athletic improvement methods.  He focuses on useful anatomy and bio-mechanics as they relate to program design and corrective train; youth athletic improvement; and rotational/overhead athlete efficiency enhancement.

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