"I don't think we can key in on the ankle enough." - Gray Cook
Sometimes putting your best foot forward is a challenge. In these busy, wired and tired times I find some days a lot easier than others to not only keep my chin up but to put my best foot forward. I’m trying to draw a parallel here to the need to slow down a little and give some thought to some simple things that prioritize you.
It’s as simple as your ankles and feet sometimes!
Your ankles and feet play a larger role that you think in your movement journey. If you want to put your best foot forward I’m suggesting that you could start with taking some time to think about your ankle and foot history.
Have you been ignoring your ankles and feet?
Often when we think fitness we go right out at the activity, and some of us go pretty hard at that over time without the care and attention our precious feet require. I’ve heard Craig Liebenson say “The feet are the foundation of our posture.” and I couldn’t agree more.
The same could be said for life sometimes when we go hard and don’t give ourselves the care and attention we require. (Just saying.)
Do your ankles move the way they are supposed to?
You will find some tips here whether you have had foot and ankle issues in the past or not. I think a lot of people ignore their feet and I’m set today to convince you not to!
We need good ankle and foot movement for life!
Movement matters to your body on so many levels, including a cellular one. In her book “Dynamic Aging,” author Katy Bowman reminds us that physical movement is a modifiable factor. It needs to play a huge part in your life, “not so that we can age dynamically, but so that we can live dynamically,” states Bowman. (-1)
Just when did your ankles get so stiff? Any new or old ankle injuries, improper fitting shoes, or extended time in high heels? Did you properly rehabilitate your ankle injury?
Gray Cook speaks on “The Importance of Considering How The Ankle Influences Movement” in his Functional Movement System’s Whiteboard presentation. “You need to have fitness sufficient to the environment in which you desire to survive and thrive,” states Cook. So if you ankles are stiff and immobile and the demand you are putting on them requires them to move and they don’t then be sure that something else in the body is affected.
From your ankles to your whole body
So now we have made a connection from the ankle movement to “Your Movement.” I ask you, “Do you own it or not?” We have so many reasons to blame our movement limitations on. From your birthday to today the roadmap of your movement destination is yours. It’s not just sports and injuries that are driving your limitations. Today it’s your desk job, over-sitting, and your inability to move well and often that limit it.
Back to Foot and Ankles
Ankle stability is supported by a network of ligaments on either side of the ankle. Ankle Sprains are a very common injury. “Once you have had one sprain you are very likely to have another,” states Jay Hertel an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia and an expert on the ankle.
Why is that?
“There are neural receptors in ligaments,” says Hertel. “When you damage the ligament, you damage the neuro receptors as well. Your brain no longer receives reliable signals from the ankle about how your ankle and foot are positioned in relation to the ground. Your proprioception — your sense of your body’s position in space — is impaired. You’re less stable and more prone to falling over and re-injuring yourself.”
This is why proper rehabilitation after an injury is so important. Don’t just get the swelling and pain down but ensure that long term you movement is not compromised. Get your ankle range of motion checked. Unlocking the ankle through proper movement coaching can be a breakthrough for back, hip and knee pain as well.
How to put your best foot forward
To put your best foot forward you must be continually trying whether you really want to or not. Let’s take a look at some common issues and ways you could improve of your feet, ankles and more.
Visual Inspection: How do they look?
Look at the wear and tear on your feet and think about the connection with that to your overall movement. Do you continually get thick skin beside your big toe for example? Does that foot turn out? Does the hip feel tight? I want you to start to see the connections and think about addressing your feet as part of your overall fitness plan.
How’s the color of your feet? Is there any swelling? If your circulation is impaired your pedal pulses will not be strong, color will be grey, nails thickened, and there could be swelling after prolonged standing.
*Note to diabetics to pay special attention to their foot and nail care.
Have your feet changed shape? Do you have arches, bunions, hammer toes, foot pain?
Movement Inspection: How do they move?
Do you have ankle dorsiflexion (35-40′ toe towards shin) and plantar flexion (point toes away)?
Can you rotate your ankles, invert (turn in) and evert (turn out) them?
Can you move your great toe independent of the others? Can you control your great toes and move the others one by one?
Do you have mobility in your great toe?
Sensory Inspection: How do they Feel?
Do you experience any cramping, pain or numbness or tingling in your feet?
Do you have Acute and/or Chronic conditions such as plantar fasciitis, neuromas, stress fractures?
What can you do?
Roll Your Feet and calves. In his book, “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” Dr. Kelly Starrett suggests that tight calf muscles are no accident. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles which collectively we call the calves can be in a state of constant stiffness due to the serious repetitive loads they take on for us with each step. When your heel cords are like steel cables and you are missing ankle range of motion Starrett suggests you need more than aimless rolling, you need to smash. His techniques for smashing the calves range from the mildly uncomfortable to the horribly painful. (-2)
Spread Your Toes and lift your toes.
Top of the foot stretch
Place foot behind you and bend the toes
Both assisted and non-assisted. Can’t reach your feet? Lie on your back to work on them.
Massage your feet with lotion every day before putting your socks and shoes on.
Stretch your calves
So many ways to consider stretching your calves. I need a whole blog on it! I want to send a shout out to Dr. Steven Stark here and his book “The Stark Reality of Stretching.” I suggest you take the time to read this book and try his method of stretching as I think it holds value and challenges some of our traditional methods on stretching. His key takeaways: Isolate, Find Zero Tension, Find First Awareness, Less is Best, and Allow the Loss of Tension.
Walking Foot Drills
Walk on the insides and outsides of your feet, on your toes, on yur heels, pointing toes in as far as you can and out as far as you can. Make this a daily habit witht he other ideas suggested here.
I tried the “Wheelies” (also from Bowman’s blog) in the gym today and I couldn’t believe I have never done these before – definitely programming this into some of my classes.
Work on balance: It’s never one thing. Proporoception, core, vistubular, visual
I love a lot of the tips from Katy Bowman’s blog “Expert Ankles” Where she makes the connection very well on the importance of stretching, balance and standing on one foot for ankle strengthening.
The Pelvic List from Bowman’s book “Dynamic Aging” describes “an exercise that is designed specifically to target the muscles you need to be able to stand on one leg strongly.” Weight shift to one side and put pressure into the ground while lifting the opposite leg with a straight knee. Don’t allow the hips and back to change position; use your lateral hip muscles and balance!
Consider professionals such as podiatrists, chiropractors, and physiotherapists to help you make progress on your foot and ankle issues.
Great link to Professor Jay Hertel’s video that demonstrates four balancing exercises to strengthen ankles. It’s worth a look!
Stretch, Mobilize, and Move those feet and ankles!
Some weeks it’s easier to stay ahead of the game of life with our jobs and responsibilities. Putting our best foot forward on all levels is important no matter how you are feeling. Prioritizing yourself is important. Making movement happen daily is important. I know you can – and you should.
Written by; Sheila Hamilton July 2017
Click here to listen to Sheila discuss this topic on the Jon McComb show. The Fitness Segment airs live every Thursday at 9:05 on CKNW 980 am.
Becoming a Supple Leopard : Book Dr. Kelly Starrett (-2) p. 425- 430
Dynamic Aging: Katy Bowman Copyright 2017 p. 85, 163, 168
The Stark Reality of Stretching: book Dr. Steven D Stark