We have had many students start our classes (stretching and strengthening) with 'flat feet' and most have had the form and function of the feet improved significantly. One young man had ankles that pronated so much that he had developed bunions (painfully enlarged joints of both big toes), and the big toes had deviated over 45 degrees away from the midline of the body. Now, three years later (using Five Fingers and a lot of kettlebell work), he now has perfect arches, the swelling and enlargement of the joints has diminished, and he has run two 10km fun runs on asphalt and concrete in his Five Fingers. His feet are perfectly aligned; his arches are developed and supple, and all his toes separate voluntarily.
An aside: most people who have been identified (or "diagnosed") with "flat feet" really have pronating ankles, and not the medial displacement of any of the bones of the feet (talus and navicular, usually that the term properly applies to). True flat feet are rare. When most people (and too many experts, IMHO) use the term, they mean pronating ankles: the whole leg has internally rotated in the hip joint; as this happens, the arch of any foot will flatten, and some collapse. Speaking generally, the pronated ankle is a lower energy configuration of the foot, and this is why exercising barefoot (or in FFs) on gravel or similar sharp surfaces has such a strong effect on foot placement: the body is doing all it can to unweight the sole of the foot—and creating the arch is part of what happens when the weight is spread from the inside border of the foot (pronation) to the whole of the foot (good alignment.
What follows is the first drill:
If you stand, and close your eyes, ask yourself 'where do I feel the weight going through my feet?' If you are like most people, most of the weight goes through the big toe side of the foot, and the heel.
Now, lift the toes off the floor, and deliberately put a bit more weight on the outside of the front of the foot, and look down at your feet: notice how the ankle and arch are better aligned? And notice how that realignment takes no muscular effort?
Now stand in front of a mirror and repeat the exercise (adding weight to the outside of the foot, and follow that with letting the foot roll in. If you watch, you will see that this is a whole-leg movement, mediated by the external rotators of the hip joint and the movement does not come from the foot itself. In fact, as you externally rotate your thighs, the weight moves to the outside of the foot, and the arch forms.
If you have pronating ankles, somewhere in the past, the body has made a choice about where to position the foot (on the internally–externally rotated axis); and the foot adapts to this. The main reasons for the body to make this positional choice (alignment of the femur in the hip joint) are two: tight hip flexors and insufficient stimulation of the soles of the feet during childhood and adolescence. All babies have flat feet; most adults have some pronation, especially under load; and if the pronation is controlled well by the body, it is part of the shock-absorbing mechanism we need for walking and running, as well as the critical mechanism for weight distribution (and obstacle avoiding!).
So: step two is to stretch the hip flexors—not easy to do on your own. We recommend a partner exercise, to begin with:
And step three, last for today, is to do a foot-strengthening/hip–leg alignment exercise. All you need is bare feet and a set of stairs: put the ball of one foot on the edge of the step, place the other behind this leg, and hold a rail. Straighten the supporting leg's knee. Slowly let the heel move below the level of the stair tread (so, a soleus and gastrocnemius stretch). If your calf muscles are tight, then do small contractions with the calf muscles, and then press the heel lower as you relax and breathe. This is part one.
Part two is the strengthening–realigning part: this time as you lower, deliberately let the ankle pronate. Feel where the weight is going through your foot: all on the inside, and under the joint of the big toe. Now, as you press the ball of the foot into the tread to lift the body, transfer some weight to the the outside of the foot so that as you pass the neutral point (normal standing position for the foot and leg): now the ankle will be perfectly alighted, with weight evenly spread across the front of the foot. Pause. Then, as you rise, transfer slightly more weight to the outside (this activated the
Just shot the video today:
The suggestion to let the muscles cramp might sound a bit intense, but an involuntary cramp activates the largest numbers of the involved fibres, and the strengthening/realigning effect is maximised. You only need a few repetitions. Once you have done both legs, walk around on a surface that gives you feedback (I like gravel!); you will immediately feel that the feet are contacting the floor differently.
This is enough to go on with, and if there's interest, I will add some intrinsic foot muscle–toe spreading drills, too.
Edited by Kit_L, 19 February 2013 - 10:43 AM.