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Understanding The Foot

I think chasing ankle mobility, particularly dorsiflexion is very important; but that ankle mobility doesn’t really hold as much value if it is sitting on top of a weak foot complex. It would be like parking a Ferrari in the shed out back. Protect your investment with rock solid foot control and strength.

One of the most common compensations you will see at the foot during a squat or any dynamic movement:

  1. Excessive over pronation at the foot resulting in increased tibial internal rotation AND hip internal rotation. This is not ideal because the hip IR will inhibit the glutes from contracting fully AND you will lose stability at your base

  2. Excessive eversion of the foot (turning outward)

  3. Excessive gripping of the ground by curling the toes and creating a claw between the forefoot (balls of feet) and the toe pads.

It’s always been mind blowing to me to have someone come in with lower extremity pain or even lower back pain. They’ll tell me they typically experience pain during a barbell back squat or some squat variation in their knee. The very first thing I want to look at after I have gathered enough information to guide my movement assessment is a barefoot bodyweight squat. I can gather so much information with this one screen. The thing I continue to see is how little coordination and control people have with what their foot is doing. Without assessing the foot in a barefoot position it would be very easy to assume some bad movement pattern was a lack of ankle moblity, poor lumbopelvic control, or “weak” hips. Again, none of those things matter if the foot isn’t properly connected to the ground. Imagine trying to squat on a good stable surface, like the gym floor. Then try to imagine trying to perform that same squat on an unstable foam pad. We would lose out on so much force production and increase our injury risk on the unstable foam pad, right? Having strong and coordinated feet gives us the right base we need for mobile ankles, strong hips, and adequate spinal stabilizers to move on.

Having strong and mobile feet and ankles that can properly transmit force into the ground is extremely important to strength and function. Poor foot mechanics could lead to a poor functioning glute that could lead to back pain very quickly. Poor foot mechanics can lead to misalignment downstream at the knee resulting in abnormal patellofemoral joint forces. Poor foot mechanics can result in missed positioning in your pelvis, especially at the bottom of the squat as you transition from eccentric to concentric.


This image gives us a simple visual to better understand and appreciate the tripod base.

Rooting is the act of establishing a good connection between the foot and the ground. Why is this connection important? Ground reaction forces leave through the foot and enter through the foot. It’s the gateway to optimal force production for any movement. By having a better connection between foot and floor we can optimize stability in our base. To understand rooting you have to understand the design of the foot. The foot has three important arches. The Transverse Arch runs across the foot where the metatarsals meet the phalanges to form the ball of the foot. The medial and lateral longitudinal arches are on the inside and outside of the foot running from the heel to the ball of foot.These arches create  three points called the Foot Tripod formed by the BIG TOE, PINKY TOE, and HEEL. If you root right it will put yourself in a better position to be stacked at the knee and hip.

Picture 1: INCORRECT! Overly flat foot position. Poor arch support and root to the ground with the heel or the pinky toe.

Picture 2: INCORRECT! Lack of wide toe box and not spreading toes apart to “push the floor apart”. Curling of the toes leads to decreased surface area to push through the ground with.

Picture 3: INCORRECT! Overly supinated (too high of an arch) due to excessive curling of the toes.

Picture 4: CORRECT!! Neutral arch. Rooting with tripod base(big toe, pinky toe, AND heel).

Picture 5: CORRECT!! No curling of the toes. Spreading of the toes to increase surface area.

When we talk about building a good arch with our feet the first action is to naturally want to curl your toes into the ground in a “claw” fashion. But this is incorrect for several reasons.

  1. You lose surface area on your base for producing the most amount of force possible. Think of pushing someone away from you with just your finger tip versus a closed fist.

  2. This claw movement prevents you from contracting your other arches optimally and gripping with the entire foot as opposed to just for forefoot.

  3. Curling the toes PUTS ZERO force into the ground.


The idea of rooting is very simple but the act of learning how do it properly in a coordinated fashion will take lots of practice.


Ensure you have all three points in contact with the ground and screw the foot in as you try to push the floor apart underneath you.


Spread toes apart to create a wider surface area.


Grip the ground with the BIG TOE- you will see your arch start to increase. Do not curl the big toe! GRIP the big toe.


Grip the ground with your heel and ENTIRE FOOT.

The goal is to grip the floor with the ENTIRE foot and not just the toes.

You’ll notice when doing this drills how active your glutes and hamstrings are and foot position can drive activation in those muscle groups.


This one can be uncomfortable at first. By using our fingers in our toe spaces we can create passive separation of our toes so that we go to root our foot we can get more toe spreading for greater contact.


The goal here is to create band separation and tension by using the muscle of our foot to create supination of the foot. Be sure not to lose tension in the ground with the BIG TOE. You should feel your foot, ankle, and calf working together here. The resistance gives feedback on your positioning. Hold the position for as long as possible to build rock solid strength and endurance in those foot muscles.


This works on more dynamic control of the foot by creating some rotational forces with the opposite leg and pelvis. You will find this is very challenging to maintain a good arch and not allowing excessive pronation or losing contact with the tripod base.


The tibialis posterior tendon is the primary dynamic stabilizer of the medial longitudinal arch and its contraction results in inversion and plantar flexion of the foot and serves to elevate the medial longitudinal arch. Preventing over pronation and having strong feet starts with having good tibialis posterior capacity.

Perform a calf raise without letting the ball drop. Start with 3×15-20. Once you have mastered this position work through a deficit by elevating your forefoot on top of a plate so you can work through more range of motion.



Addressing ankle mobility and hip stability is important. But those efforts are meaningless is the foot isn’t doing what it needs to. A simple way to address improved foot control alongside the drills shown is to warm-up and have at least the first 1-2 sets of your work up sets, barefoot. Training without shoes IS NOT A REQUIREMENT (I train in lifters and shoes), but being more connected to your feet gives you opportunities for improvement.


Dr. Bryan Keith

Myomuv PT

We help active adults and athletes return to the activities they love without pain, without taking time off, and feeling more confident and capable than ever before.