Weightlifting Feet: How Strong Is Your Foot Core

When I’m at the gym I’m always baffled by all of the trainers/gym goers ‘pumping iron’ and doing cardio.

I can safely say that most or all gym goers have forgotten their crucial core muscles; the ones that help stabilise the body to conduct certain movements from deadlifts, to squats, to running.

The word ‘core’ is loosely used nowadays when referring to the midsection or torso of the body. Many will believe that the core is the ‘abs’, ‘the boxer’s muscles’ or the ‘lats’, but in actual fact the true core is a tri-planar and three-dimensional moving unit, involving deeper muscles such as the transverse abdominals, multifidus, the obliques and the pelvic floor group.

The torso core is NOT a global mover (e.g. squats, chest press, pull ups), it groups a set of muscles used as stabilisers to ensure that any movement is proportionate, controlled and efficient in the upper and lower body. From my experience as a podiatrist, if you suffer from back pain, sciatica, shoulder and/or neck spasms, then I am sure that a weak torso core is present.

The truth is, most people do not train their foot core.

As explained by McKeon, Hertel, Brambie and Davis (2014), the foot core refers to a set of muscles and a neural system (which we won’t discuss here due to the complexity of the system) that supports the foot arches; yes, that’s plural! There isn’t just ONE arch, but rather there are three arches that work together to maintain your foot core!

The three arches include:

  • medial longitudinal arch – the ‘inside arch’ (the one we all know)
  • lateral longitudinal arch – the ‘outside arch’
  • transverse arch – the ‘across’ the ball of the feet arch.

These three arches must work together to stabilise the foot core, just as you would your torso core. The foot core works hard because it has to stabilise and carry you and your activities all day, hence why they are also called ‘weight-lifting feet’.

Suffering foot pain, cramps, weakness and soreness is due to weak foot core (the deeper muscle stabilisers NOT the big global movers such as the calves). Examples of deep muscle stabilisers include, quadratus plantae, abductor hallucis, lumbricals, flexor digitorium brevis and the interossei group.

I’ve consulted with a great mix of weight-lifters, runners, workers, dancers and footballers who present with heel and foot pain and one cause I always find is that they have a weak foot core. Their deep muscle stabilisers are all overstretched, weak and greatly overpowered by big prime movers.

Even the big prime movers such as the calves, the tibialis anterior (shin muscle) and the peroneals aren’t even operating at proper strength and flexibility! There is a great imbalance in the leg muscles, foot arch and core, which must be addressed as soon as possible.

Can you imagine, conducting a 300kg power lifting deadlift with a weak foot core (i.e. weak leg, foot and ankle muscles) – a weak foot foundation? Ouch! Would you load a semi-trailer/large truck that has flat tyres with heavy cargo? No way!

Strengthening the foot core involves exercises such as toe towel scrunches, marble/pen toe pick-ups and toe spreaders. Unfortunately, you can’t isolate these foot core muscles in these exercises so that would mean that you would be using your big leg/ankle muscles also, but that’s absolutely fine!

The research does recommend using a technique called ‘foot doming’, which can be done sitting or standing. Foot doming involves turning your foot out to give your inside arch a lift and while in that position, do an arch crunch! To do an arch crunch, bend your toes down
while in the foot dome position, make sure you don’t scrunch your toes. To see this in motion, watch my YouTube video “Strengthening and Protecting your Feet from Injuries : Establishing a strong Foot Core”:-

Although the foot core still remains an incomplete theory, I believe it could clarify future assessments, protect, prevent and strengthen the feet so that they will ‘stand by you’ your whole life.

To be sure, we can only wait for more evidence and results from further continued investigations, but if this article has made you more mindful about the importance of feet training, then I’m happy! I can’t wait for the day when I go to the gym and see everyone there strengthening their leg and foot muscles!

McKeon, P.O., Hertel, J., Bramble, D. & Davis, I. (2014) The foot core system : a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function. Br J Sports Med (10).

Article written exclusively by Grant Duong for What’s New in Fitness magazine and website.

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