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Strengthening a body part that will increase balance – The Martial Arts Foot

Posted Jun 03 2011 2:50pm

We walk on it, we run on it, it is used to stand up or sit down, it’s a body part that used to go up and down the stairs, drive a car, ride a bike and even kick. Yes, it’s the foot!

“For a body part that we utilize so often it is a neglected part of the body for most people”, states; Tracy Lee Thomas, a Martial Arts Master Instructor in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

We have two feet to stand on. The feet are designed to support our weight. The natural arches allow our feet to support an immense amount of weight and still remain balanced and upright. In fact, in our culture, because of how we’ve had to adapt our bodies to the design of our furniture and tools, we easily forget where balance is. It is lost in the slump toward the computer or TV screen. It is lost in the squinting and straining to see a blackboard. The daily mis-use of our bodies, over time, becomes permanent habits. Keeping that in mind, we begin to look for balance in our feet. The design of the foot is that as we press weight into it, the arch springs open and lifts us up. We rise up, tension is released and circulation improved.

The foot and ankle contain:

  • 26 bones (One-quarter of the bones in the human body are in the feet.);
  • 33 joints;
  • more than 100 muscles, tendons (fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones), and ligaments (fibrous tissues that connect bones to other bones); and
  • a network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue.

There are 20 muscles in the foot that give the foot its shape by holding the bones in position and expand and contract to impart movement. The main muscles of the foot are:

  • the anterior tibial, which enables the foot to move upward;
  • the posterior tibial, which supports the arch;
  • the peroneal tibial, which controls movement on the outside of the ankle;
  • the extensors, which help the ankle raise the toes to initiate the act of stepping forward; and
  • the flexors, which help stabilize the toes against the ground.


·         The forefoot is composed of the five toes (called phalanges) and their connecting long bones (metatarsals). Each toe (phalanx) is made up of several small bones. The big toe (also known as the hallux) has two phalanx bones—distal and proximal. It has one joint, called the interphalangeal joint. The big toe articulates with the head of the first metatarsal and is called the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ for short). Underneath the first metatarsal head are two tiny, round bones called sesamoids. The other four toes each have three bones and two joints. The phalanges are connected to the metatarsals by five metatarsal phalangeal joints at the ball of the foot. The forefoot bears half the body's weight and balances pressure on the ball of the foot.

·         The midfoot has five irregularly shaped tarsal bones, forms the foot's arch, and serves as a shock absorber. The bones of the midfoot are connected to the forefoot and the hindfoot by muscles and the plantar fascia (arch ligament).

·         The hindfoot is composed of three joints and links the midfoot to the ankle (talus). The top of the talus is connected to the two long bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula), forming a hinge that allows the foot to move up and down. The heel bone (calcaneus) is the largest bone in the foot. It joins the talus to form the subtalar joint. The bottom of the heel bone is cushioned by a layer of fat.

·         Musles, Tendons, and Ligaments
A network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments supports the bones and joints in the foot.

·         Perfect Balance or No Balance

·          If foot function is impaired, then balance will be difficult. You will tire in a short time and even sometimes in minutes can suffer leg pains. Observe what happens: at once the inner side of the foot comes into rapid play or action, with slight, constantly fluctuating adjustments necessary to sustain the body balance; the outer side of the foot remains comparatively immobile and your entire weight tends to focus upon that part.

·          The fluctuating inner part of the foot is called the spring-arch. Its chief function is to adjust for and maintain balance. The outer portion is called the weight-bearing arch and it operates to center and sustain the body weight.

·          By this simple experiment, you will learn not only the importance of the structure of your feet, but you will also be able to test their condition. The normal, unimpaired foot will balance the body perfectly, with graceful, easy movements and only a slight swaying of the body. The weak, crippled or deformed foot will make violent jerky efforts to balance the body, but will fail! Impaired function will force you to reach for support, to drop the other foot to the ground, or fall in a heap.

·          The condition of a great majority of feet are between the extremes of Perfect Balance and No Balance. The vital importance of this balancing action of the foot becomes evident the moment we consider the act of walking. While walking, we are continuously balancing first on one foot and then on the other as we transfer the weight of the body forward from right to left and left to right. In fact, it is a movement demanding remarkable equipoise, for the height and mass of the human body are out of proportion architecturally to the narrow base formed by the feet. The equilibrium, in turn, depends upon the perfect coordination of the nerves and muscles and their control of the lever-like bones, fulcrums, bases, angles and shifting surface of the feet. Correct walking is a feat of balancing on balanced feet!

·          Since most all foot comfort depends upon normal foot function, beware of diagnosis of arthritis or so-called rheumatism when the lower extremities are painful, since nearly all these symptoms can stem from some functional foot disturbance to even overweight and poor posture. For more info., refer to the section on gout, arthritis and rheumatism in the Senior Steps section of Chapter Six.

·         Causes of Broken Arches

·          Nearly all foot troubles are the result of various injuries. The most common injury is caused by shoes that do not properly conform to the foot and hence, do not permit free and natural foot performance. Quite often, students are surprised when we tell them that their feet are not functioning normally. It is hard to make them understand that bones are actually dislocated. The reason this bone displacement occurs is simple and plausible. The feet, relative to their size, do more work than any other part of the body. They are subjected to injury every day.

·          Wrong ill-fitting shoes, missteps, sprains, pounding on hard sidewalks, etc. all take their toll! The cumulative effect of all this punishment finally displaces the bones, upsets the balanced function and pain is the result. The body's walking gear is slowly being put out of adjustment!

·         Bad Walking Habits Bring Miseries

·          One of the early signs is the eversion, or outward turning of the foot. From here serious foot troubles start! We are walking out of natural foot and body balance. This affects all of the bones and nerves of the feet, and in turn the ankle, calf, knee and hip. This results in the knee being thrown out of balance, as well as thighs, etc. The hip and lower spine are pushed out of alignment. The trouble travels up the spine, also resulting in misplacement of shoulders and head. Pains and miseries are felt throughout the body. This may be expected, when the feet are out of balance.



B student   you may immediately think of breaking boards when building stronger feet is mentioned. Of course conditioning the feet can help in these feats, especially if you move to breaking thicker boards or concrete blocks. One way to help this is to wearmartial arts shoeswhich give your foot more flexibility and movement than traditional shoes.  However clearly your feet support your whole body. So, having stronger feet alone in fact has proven to enable you to lift much heavier weights.

Beyond that of course if you ever hope to jump into the UFC octagon your feet are what have to hold you up during those long grueling rounds. Not to mention better foot and ankle strength may help you avoid being tapped out in some locks and submission holds. So how do you build stronger feet? This can be done both with exercise and conditioning.

Firstly, the shoes that we where on a daily basis are not generally good for our feet and do not promote stronger feet. So you might think you will look crazy walking around without shoes all day, but you would build stronger feet. Though you have probably seen athletes who do not wear shoes even for running. To find a balance whenever you are at home try to stay barefoot. This will also help you avoid nasty fungus like athlete’s foot. Perhaps one of the most unique products developed with this in mind is Vibram’s ‘five fingered shoes’. They will get you as close to being barefoot while wearing a shoe. Basically they are like a sock with five fingers with a rubber sole on the bottom, perhaps most famously worn by author Timothy Ferriss. Unfortunately if you are shy they may not be for you as you will get some funny looks.

Secondly, of course is exercise. Running can obviously help build foot strength but there are also an array of targeted exercises you can do specifically for the feet. The feet actually have 20 different muscles. These exercises can include; negative calf raises, stretches, balancing exercises (on one leg on an unbalanced surface, eyes closed), using an exercise band for resistance and picking up things with your toes to improve toe strength – great one to make a game of with the kids.


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