I love seeing people play “This little piggy” with this kids. It takes me back to my childhood quickly and if your feet look anything like mine and it was a game from your childhood too, it may have been the last time that somebody willingly touched your feet without being paid to!
Babies feet are highly entertaining for a geek like me to watch. They move with the dexterity of a concert painist's hands and don't resemble the actions of many adult feet.
Beyond being cute, this dexterity is one of the ultimate expressions of bodily freedom and with bodily freedom comes power. We all once possessed this power and in a way it's the type of capability we search for as adult athletes.
We make ourselves fitter and stronger to build power but all the while, we're building on flimsy foundations. Those little piggies are costing you power.
If you were to look down at your bare feet right now, most of you would see at rest that at least some of your toes don't lie flat and long – they are crunched up or curled under to a degree. You are unconsciously (or have for a sustained period of time at some point in your life) overcontracting the muscles on the bottom of the feet.
This will lead most people to regularly grip the floor with the toes excessively. That means in a movement like a lunge what will usually occur is that the toes on the front foot will grip before the ankle gets chance to dorsiflex to the optimal degree for the movement.
The back foot (depending on how the lunge is done – I'm thinking of the kind of foot and ankle movement you would do as toeing-off during a single leg bound) in gripping with toes, would not allow their full extension, probably decreasing plantarflexion at the ankle and hip extension.
Those little piggies, when not working like they were designed to, can kill the power of concentric triple extension and its precursor pattern, eccentric triple flexion.
So how do we get our little piggies to come all the way home for us, so we can use them more in keeping with their design and have more of our power available to us?
Tractioning your toes is a good start. Gently pulling them and gliding the joints in their given directions will create some temporary joint freedom that you can then utilise with...
Eccentrically loading the muscles on the bottom of your feet, your toe flexors. An easy way to get yourself to use those muscles on the soles of your feet in more lengthened positions is to use them in more lengthened positions. When you toe-off properly during walking, your toes are extended without use of the toes extensors on the top of the foot and your toe flexors contract in lengthened states to stop the toes extending too far. Progressively getting used to loading the toes flexors eccentrically after tractioning the toes will prepare your little piggies for more powerful use.
Concentrically loading the antagonists of the toe flexors – the toe extensors. After getting the major toes joints used to extending, gaining more voluntary strength and control of extension by actively lifting the toes for reps of isometric holds will allow you to further consolidate any new extensability leading to less unconscious gripping and overcontracting of the toe flexors.
They may be little piggies but using them well can make a big difference to your power, speed and strength, whatever your sport.
Arton “The Big Piggy” Baleci
Float Sting – Sports Injury Rehab and Performance, Harley Street, London W1
P.S. if you were gutted that you couldn't make the Metaphor and Movement workshop, worry not – it is being shifted to February. More details to follow.