When was the last time you thought about your feet? They’re likely not at the top of your priority list, but your feet are the foundation for everything you do. They withstand hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of force every time you take a step.
And while they do a great job of supporting you, they probably aren’t getting the amount of TLC they deserve. More than that, though, they typically get blamed for things they didn’t do.
Have you ever been told that:
- You have high/low arches?
- You pronate or supinate?
- Your toes point in or out?
A lot of times, however, the problem doesn’t start with your feet. The problem could actually be with your knees or hips. When you address those issues (by strengthening the weak joint), your feet will start to align themselves correctly, giving you a more solid foundation for your workouts and helping prevent future injuries to your lower body.
Why Do I Have Low/High Arches?
Though everyone’s feet have slightly varying degrees of arch, excessively arched or flat feet can indicate a problem with your hips (if it’s not genetic, of course). Lower arches can mean that your hips are rotating inward. This is more common in women, as their hips tend to be wider, causing their hips to rotate in more.
A great way to tell which way your hips rotate is to look at your knees. When your hips rotate in, your knees will point toward each other. This causes your lower legs, ankles and feet to turn in and your arch to flatten out. Since your glutes turn your hips out, strengthening those muscles will help with flat feet. (Think hip thrusts, hip bridges and deadlifts.)
Higher arches, on the other hand, are caused by the hips turning out. People with high arches tend to have tight leg muscles in general, specifically in their glutes and hamstrings. High arches can also be seen as tight arches because there is so much tension pulling the arch up.
If you have high arches, focus on your adductor muscles of your leg. The adductors are on the inside of the thigh and pull the leg in. It can also help to spend more time doing relaxing activities like meditation, since people with high arches tend to be more tense. Tension in muscles is an indication of stress, so try to relax.
Why Do I Pronate/Supinate?
These two fancy anatomical words have to do with ankle alignment. Pronation occurs when your ankle caves in toward the center of your body, and supination occurs when your ankle rolls to the outside.
To determine if either is an issue for you, look at the heel of your shoe. If the inside part of your heel is more worn down, you’re a pronator. If the outside of the heel is worn down, you’re a supinator.
Once again, these problems are caused by the rest of your leg and hip, not the foot or ankle. If you pronate, that means the muscles on the inside of your legs are tight and your legs will collapse inward when you walk.
Conversely, if you supinate, the muscles on the outside of your legs are tight, causing your legs to push away from each other (think: bowlegged people).
Why Do My Toes Point In/Out?
Stand up tall and look down at your feet. You might notice that your toes point in or out. Like the arch problem, this is caused by tight muscles of the hip. If the muscles that rotate your hip inward are tight, your toes will point in as well.
If the muscles that turn your hip out are tight, your toes will turn out. It’s important that you don’t simply force your toes forward if you have these problems. If you don’t first address your tight hips, this will cause torque at the knee.
Easy Foot-Fixing Exercises
Now that you know what causes these common foot problems, it’s time to do some helpful exercises. There’s one exercise for flat feet, one for flat and high arches and one for differently shaped feet. Find the one that works best with your feet.
1. Arch Lift for Flat Feet
As you do this exercise, notice that the rest of your leg rotates when you raise and lower your arch.
HOW TO DO IT: Take off your shoes and grab a small object, such as a pen. Put one end of the pen under the arch of your foot. Now, keeping your toes and heels firmly on the ground, lift your arch off of the pen as high as you can. Then press the arch of your foot down on the pen. Do 10 repetitions on each foot.
2. Adductor Toe Touch
For all you supinators out there, this exercise will help you use your adductors to pull your legs back to the center of your body.
HOW TO DO IT: Standing up, put a soft object like a ball or foam roller between your knees. Lean forward and touch your toes while squeezing the object between your knees. Come back up slowly, and then reach down again as far as you can go. Do 10 reps, squeezing the object as hard as you can. Your inner thighs should be burning by the end.
3. Resistance Band Walk
Don’t think we left you out, pronators! With this exercise, you should feel the muscles on the outside of your hips really working.
HOW TO DO IT: Place a resistance band around your ankles. Get into an athletic position with your butt back and knees bent. Keeping your toes pointed forward, step to the side slowly. Complete five steps to the right and five to the left.
4. Hip Rotators
Next is an exercise that’s perfect for pretty much every foot type. This simple exercise will help you learn how to move your hips correctly, no matter where your tension lies. Watch your feet as you do this exercise to see how your arch rises and falls as the knee goes in and out.
HOW TO DO IT: Get into an athletic stance with your butt back and knees bent. Place a resistance band just under or just above your knees. Take your right knee as far out as you can and then as far in as you can without moving any other part of your body. Keep your foot relaxed. Repeat this 10 times before switching sides.
Your Feet Don’t Lie
The position of your feet and the height of your arches depend on a lot of things, such as hip strength and position, leg imbalances and the way that you distribute weight. But you can’t simply blame the feet for problems like flat arches.
Make sure that you’re training your legs and hips well and wearing the proper footwear. Don’t simply prop up your arch or another part of your foot. Wear neutral shoes that force you to make an arch with your foot, leg and hip muscles. Most importantly, stop blaming your feet for problems that they aren’t causing!