Looking at my own shoe size 8.5’s, sometimes I cannot imagine that such a small surface area can carry my 175 lb’s of weight around all day. Those 28 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles and tendons carry around all that pressure in just a seemingly small surface area. Yet that doesn’t seem to stop us from abusing our feet by standing on them all day with poor posture or wearing shoes that don’t fit right. They are at the bottom of our anatomical totem pole, so it’s only natural that they are the last things we think about in regards to joint mobility affecting our lifts.
Analysis of poor form or structural movement often begins at the base. If our bodies were trees, our feet would be the roots. If a tree looks malnourished, you would start at the roots to make sure that they are healthy and able to absorb nutrients and water. The same goes for any lower body movement and analyzing proper lifting form. So many are quick to think “oh it’s my knees or hips. I have bad knees and my hips are tight.” Did you ever stop to think why you maybe have bad knees and hips? Check and see where your roots are at.
It doesn’t matter how much you can squat or deadlift, if ankle mobility is low and weak, being able to successfully squat or deadlift a personal record or to red can be difficult or impossible. The risk of serious injury increases with weight on the bar without greater ankle strength and mobility. Think about balancing a bowling ball on top of a pen. The pen is not strong and sturdy enough to support the mass of the bowling ball nor is it structurally proportional. In turn, if the body is very developed but with poor joint strength and flexibility, that can be very dangerous when trying to load the bar with some serious weight. The pen, or ankles in this case, cannot take the stress of the load. Instead, the body compensates leading to injury.
When you squat, lunge, or deadlift, your shin needs to be parallel with your spine to ensure proper core stability. That ability to keep your shin parallel comes from dorsiflexion mobility in the ankle. This means that as the knee goes forward, the ankle is strong and flexible enough to let your shin hinge forward without having the heal come up. If the heal comes up, the ankle is so tight (muscle, tendon, or joint wise) that the ankle must come up to balance the weight of your body moving forward. A great example from what we have been doing this week in Fuse is either the pistol squats or the elevated toe touches on the box. When the ankle is not able to track forward, it forces the leg and upper body to stay behind the center of balance of the body. When the glutes go back, the upper body must go forward to maintain balance. If not due to ankle mobility or otherwise, that person will abruptly find themselves firmly planted on the ground, glutes and all.
Even our arches play a role in squatting. It has been said time and time again that squatting is bad for the body for this reason or that. In reality, it’s all alignment. If the roots (your feet) are not strong and stable, why would the tree trunk legs grow straight? They wouldn’t. The arch is what actually keeps your leg in alignment as follows: ankle, knee, hip. If the arch collapses, the knee rotates inward, causing the heal to naturally move outward. This can potentially cause issues tracking all the way up to the legs causing back pain during the squat.
Our bodies are amazing organisms that are capable of so much. That connection you have with your body is a relationship. In that relationship, each half needs to listen and be responsive to the other. If you do not listen to that relationship when it tells you rest, or that hurts, or too heavy for a hinge day, someone in that relationship always gets hurt. When the relationship is you and your body, it’s ultimately you that gets hurt in the end.
So…I’ll ask one more time, where are your roots at?