Is Your Foot Holding You Back?

I was thinking about how to write this piece when Kelly Starret and Brian McKenzie posted a great video on how important foot function is. This is the video I’m talking about.

Now, here’s my take:

Believe it or not, your feet may well hold the key to unlock your hidden athletic potential. They are the contact point between you and the ground. When you run, jump, squat or clean; it is your feet that are the ‘switch’ that help access the power of the hips. Any dysfunction at the foot and ankle is going to cause a lack of power development from the hips and probably some degree of compensation from somewhere else in the body…from a part of the body that is not fundamentally designed to do the work of the hips. To understand how to ‘unlock’ the foot and allow it to function effectively, we first need to understand the anatomy.

The foot/ankle joint is widely viewed as a single joint, when it is actually a series of joints that are highly integrated.  They are:

  1.   The Talocrural Joint
  2.   The Subtalar (talocalcanean) Joint
  3.   The Talocalcaneonavicular Joint
  4.    The Calcaneocuboid Joint
  5.    The Transverse Tarsal Joint – Also known as the Mid Tarsal Joint or MTJ. This joint is the talocalcaneonavicular joint and the calcaneocuboid joint.

The focus of this piece will be on the Subtalar Joint (STJ), its construction, function, and how this all pertains to optimising hip function.

The Subtalar Joint – STJ

The STJ is the meeting of the talus and the calcaneus, where the inferior surface of the talus articulates with the superior surface of the calcaneus. Inversion and eversion are the main movements that occur at this joint. However, the joint also permits slight gliding and rotation that assist with inversion and eversion of the posterior part of the foot i.e. the calcaneus. Movements of STJ are closely associated with those at the talocalcaneonavicular and calcaneocuboid joints (parts of the transverse tarsal joint).

 As we spend the majority of our time weight bearing, it is important to understand how the STJ affects the movement of the rest of our body. When we walk, run and squat; we are subject to gravity and ground reaction force. These forces then cause a reaction in the STJ. When we walk, the calcaneus everts, allowing the STJ to pronate. In turn this allows the mid tarsal joint (MTJ) to become mobile and the arch of the foot beings to lower. This sequence of events allows a couple of essential things to occur.

Firstly, it increases proprioception by allowing the foot to adapt to the surface it is working on and secondly and in my opinion, more importantly, it starts to eccentrically lengthen the muscles of the foot. This eccentric loading then changes to a concentric contraction causing the calcaneus to begin to invert. Calcaneal inversion causes the MTJ to lock up, which then makes the foot more stable. This stability conveniently comes at a point when the muscles are producing force.

That covers the distal happenings, but what about the proximal effects i.e. what happens at the tibia and femur? This is where things get interesting, and here’s why.

Calcaneal eversion, which is a frontal plane motion, translates to tibial internal rotation, which is in the tranverse plane. I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Thinking About The Squat, about how the transverse plane is the most powerful plane in the body. This lower leg transverse plane motion will cause a similar effect in the femur and pelvis. This chain reaction will drive torque into the hip joint. The hip joint reacts to calcaneal eversion with flexion (saggital), abduction (frontal) and internal rotation (transverse). These three movements all eccentrically load the glutes FOR FREE! This eccentric loading helps to decelerate the calcaneal eversion, causing allowing calcaneal inversion via econcentric muscle function (thanks to Jami Tikkanen for the edit!) and a reversal of the actions above ending in a powerful concentric contraction of the glutes causing hip extension; adduction and external rotation.

 Any form of dysfunction of the STJ will not allow the chain reaction that has been explained above. For example, if you have very high arches and therefore an immobile STJ and MTJ you will not be able to cause the chain reaction of converting the frontal plain, calcaneal eversion to tibial rotation. The result of this is that the foot and hip muscles aren’t maximally loaded. If your hips do not like being internally rotated, this may well indicate that you are not getting effect calcaneal eversion and resultant STJ and MTJ function. This can cause excessive valgus at the knee and/or repeated ankle sprains.  There is also an issue with fallen arches. With fallen arches the bones of the feet are already in the ‘loaded’ positions, being in the end range of their ROM means that the musculature can’t load and explode.

How can we restore function?

In two of my previous posts – Does Your Warm-up Help You Evolve and Restoring Joint Function, I discuss the need for tri planar movement and the different ways the movements can be driven into the joints. Check out the video below. Here Jami is demonstrating simple mobility drills to drive tri planar back into the mid and rear portions of the foot. As always, test and retest with something like an unloaded overhead squat. In the video Jami mentions The Gray Institute and AFS (Applied Funcitonal Science). I highly suggest you check out

These short and simple mobility drills will help restore normal function of the mid and rear foot, in turn helping to unleash the power contained in the hip.





Thinking About The Squat

The main object of this post is get people to understand the function of the glutes, their role in the squat and how they affect the knee joint during the squat. I’ll also try and cover some mobility issues linked to stance and foot position too! I’m a little unsure of where to start with this post, but here goes!

I’ve discussed, in previous posts, there are  3 planes of movement – saggital, frontal and transverse. The hip joint will move in all three of these planes, to some degree, during walking, running, jumping, squatting etc. When the glutes contract concentrically (shorten), they can extend, abduct and externally rotate the hip joint. Therefore, to eccentrically load the glutes we need hip flexion, adduction and internal rotation to some degree, right?

OK – on the descent (of the squat), it’s easy to see the ‘flexion’ at the hip; the knee and chest move towards each other. What do you do  with your knee when you descend? Do you push them out – try to maintain an externally rotated position? Pushing the knees out, into abduction, and trying to maintain external rotation is the concentric action of the glutes – shouldn’t that be happening on the way out of the squat? Interesting, no? But wait, won’t internal rotation and adduction cause valgus at the knee? Yup, it sure will – however, not all valgus is bad! :-O

The valgus knee occurs in people with a hip hypermobility – long and floppy glutes trying to load and explode to get out of the bottom of the squat. Don’t get me wrong, valgus knees in a loaded squat needs to be addressed but the body is doing its best to create some explode. If you get the load element the knee will drive straight back out – which is caused by the concentric contraction of the glutes. This internal to external rotation is important. Why? The transverse plane is the most powerful plane in the body. Just think of propulsion sports – golf, baseball, throwing athletic events etc. To throw/hit  the object furthest the movement is predominently through the transverse plane. Why is this important to my squat? Look at these two videos – watch the action of the knee and tell me what you see?

Were they driving the knees out on the descent? What happened to the knee joint as they begin to drive out of the bottom? Does the knee STAY in that position?

Let me touch on one other point briefly – foot position.

If your feet are too wide, the valgus (if there is any) will look worse, this is because of the distance of your feet from your hips. You’ll need more valgus because the additional abduction actually shortens the glutes that you want to stretch and load! ‘But I can’t squat with my feet any closer’ – I hear you cry. I’d ask the question ‘why?’. If you point your toes out quiet a bit then it could be that you have poor ankle or hip mobility mobility, or tight hip external rotators…or some combination. I’ll save some tips on this for another post as I think there is quiet a bit to think about here!

Thoughts and comments, please!