We know that having flat feet or collapsed arches has been touted as a risk factor for injury (albeit somewhat inconsistently). And it just doesn’t pass the eyeball test… Flat feet just look unathletic. However, the static assessment of having feet flatter than Frodo is just that — static. A more appropriate assessment of the feet should include a dynamic element that allows for pronation when they’re supposed to pronate and supination when they’re supposed to supinate. Which illustrates the point here: the foot is a dynamic system of sensory inputs and neuromuscular outputs. One way that we can upregulate and harness this dynamic system is thru maintaining the short foot position during movement. Or, to steal my own thunder, generation of the short foot may be an indicator of neurological readiness and capacity to safely tolerate high volume and load.
But I digress…
The three crucial points of the weight-bearing foot:
- 1st metatarsal head (ball of foot)
- 5th metatarsal head
- Mid-lateral calcaneus (heel).
Essentially, this is the tripod or short foot position. This foot position is absolutely vital for powerful lifts, big jumps, and at the end of stance phase of gait when the foot re-supinates. Short foot puts the 33 joints of the foot on tension, centers the foot, and fires off the high density of proprioceptive nerve endings which are relayed to the brain. This stable position allows for a system-wide increase in force output and motor control. The strength of this stimulus probably improves motor learning due to the positive, feedforward stimuli. A centered foot position tells the brain that the position is a stable one and it is safe to generate a lot more force without risk of destabilization and injury.
It is no coincidence that the external cue to “screw the feet into the ground” helps to foster this short foot position. The system seeks joint centration for max output, so by bearing weight predominantly thru these 3 points the foot is most centered. The other thing you’ll notice with this cue is that the foot is not a static, inanimate object! It is a prime source of neurological input and output (more on that with an upcoming post). Maintaining the short foot position can generate an arch and produce a monstrous feed-forward loop that maintains tension and stability throughout the system reinforcing to the brain that force can be safely produced. When the arch collapses the nervous system quickly downregulates in an attempt to avoid excess force thru the entire lower quarter while in an unstable position, yielding decreased output. This is not unlike how head/jaw position influences spine control or how chronically “tight” hamstrings are likely a protective response to prevent neurologic injury when in untenable positions.
That is not to say that those with a flat foot are lost causes or that I am negating the influence of the pelvis, hip, and knee (quite the contrary, especially if you’ve read any of my stuff – watch the video above) I have seen some strong athletes with collapsed arches. What I am saying is that they’re likely leaving performance (and potentially injury risk) on the table. An inability to centrate the foot indicates an unreadiness to safely tolerate high volume or heavy load without some level of risk.
Ultimately, creating the short foot position indicates a more optimal neuromuscular readiness to produce force and adapt to dynamic environments.
Also, check out Charlie Weingroff and Andreo Spina for their take on this topic.
Great post! I attended Dr. Emily Splichel’s presentation “Movement From the Ground Up” at the Perform Better Summit a little while ago, which discussed a lot of the information here. She discussed how short foot influences co-activation patterns (e.g. deep external rotators of the hip), joint coupling, and myofascial highways that are stimulated when the foot intrinsic mm. are activated. She also presented a 5 min barefoot prep, consisting of 8 exercises that can be done to upregulate the nervous system prior an athletic endeavor.
Thanks Ray. Yes it appears there are a few important contact points evident during development that can unleash some deep primal patterns of stability if we tap into them. Anything that has a big representation in the brain should probably have a big representation in our training.
Well said, Seth!
Thanks Dr. Kurfman, I learned from the best!
Great points to discuss about motor performance with task specific component that helps tauten up post tib to improve a great dynamic medial arch supporter. Now, my question to you is how do you build feedback component with static positioning to feedforward with dynamic tasks progressions and pertubation in stance. Reason I mention is because I have seen some people over correct with laxity, instability or apprehension to create poor synergies in ankle, hip and knee strategies especially when progressed to more dynamically and with perturbation. IE poor proprioception, “stiffens” / over supinates creating issues up the chain. Then overflow comes into play to potentially correct but different conversation.
Also, could you explain why you chose feedforward looping. I would think early motor learning would be developing feedback components more in quiet stance then progressing to feedforward with progression in motor learning and performance.
Hey John thanks for reading. I am not quite sure what you’re asking here though? Certainly over-compensation into excess supination isn’t good nor is it the goal. Rather a centrated, short foot position may be a marker of readiness for and tolerance of progression.