| | The Power of Pronation: Why Flat Feet Are Functional

Author / Matthew Zanis

3-5 minute read

To all of my pancake feet, foot slapping, duck walking brothers and sisters out there, I salute you. Congratulations. You are a member of the cool kid’s club. You are a part of the majority of people out there with flat feet. That’s right! High arched people represent a smaller proportion of the population. Now, just because flat feet are common, that doesn’t make them “normal.”

This article is going to shed some light on how many people have evolved to have flat feet, why pronation is so valuable to human movement, and how we can literally harness the power of pronation to enhance our athletic potential and improve foot health.

The Story of Flat Feet

Why do so many people have flat feet? I believe it’s largely due to our environment and developmental behavior. Our environment has evolved over the millennia from our hunter/gatherer ancestors to the humans we are today. Our ancestors were running around outside in nature, exposing bare feet to the unpredictable terrain of rocks, sand, grass, and dirt. This gave our feet the proprioceptive training necessary to build strong, durable arches. Even today, our physical terrain has not changed dramatically. Sure, we have sidewalks, streets, carpets, and hardwood floors, but rocks and dirt still remain. Our terrain, however, is irrelevant because of our proclivity towards comfort. What have we given up in our efforts? Bulky and padded shoes with sturdy arch supports, flip-flops, and high heels have negatively impacted the way our feet interact with the ground and changed the biomechanics of our gait. High heels shorten the Achilles tendon and limit dorsiflexion. Flip-flops impair big toe function. Orthotics limit proprioceptive input while weakening the intrinsic musculature and ligaments that naturally keep the arch strong.

In addition to all of our fancy attempts to make our feet comfortable or stylish, we have also become a society of sitters. Many of us sit at the breakfast table to read the morning paper, sit in our cars on the way to work, sit at our desks working at computers, sit in the car on our way home, and then sit down to eat dinner. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Some of us are lucky to get in a short one-hour workout, but research suggests that this isn’t enough to counteract the negative effects of habitual sitting. Not to mention, most of us continue to train in bulky shoes that don’t allow our feet to interact with the ground.

Why should our feet ever have to worry about being strong? We are naturally weakening them each day. Wolf’s Law states that our bodies will adapt to the loads under which they are placed. By sitting all day, and wearing over-padded or heeled shoes, we take away the beneficial stress from our foot’s structures.

Purposeful Pronation

Your flat feet aren’t the problem. What matters most is your ability to control that pronation. Pronation, where the middle of the foot flattens towards the ground, is actually essential for effective supination when the arch lifts off the ground. Think about the Dead Bug. We train your hip flexors in order to use them to pull our glutes and hamstrings into the best position to contract and produce force in a movement like the deadlift or squat. The same application occurs at the foot and ankle. The foot needs to flatten and pronate in order to load, lengthen, and wake up the tissues like the posterior tibialis into position to supinate.

When walking, as you transition from your heel to the midfoot with each step, the arch should flatten to the earth. This allows the foot to absorb the load of your body (upwards of 1.5x your bodyweight) to better stabilize your movement. As you move towards the big toe for push off, the now lengthened tissues on the bottom of your foot are given a job to do. They are stimulated to contract to lift your arch, create a rigid lever, and propel you forward.

This excursion is vital to attenuate force, absorb load, and produce power. As long as you hit and maintain these three points of contact on the ground with your tripod foot, the knee will begin to translate out over the instep of the foot, putting you into the perfect position to load and explode. This is why training your foot to always supinate (move with a lifted arch) is so detrimental to performance; it reduces the elastic, rubber band nature of your foot. You become too rigid and require more work to be performed from your muscles, reducing efficiency, and creating higher stress, pain, and potential overuse injuries. The same biomechanics should occur when you squat. The foot should pronate and flatten to the earth as you descend into the bottom position, internally rotating the tibia and femur to put those glutes onto a stretch that will stimulate them to fire and drive you out of the hole. Without pronation at the foot, length tension relationships in muscles are impaired, and strength is reduced.

Improve Your Foot Health 

Pronation is a 3D movement, not just a collapse of the arch. Oversimplifying the collapse is a limiting statement, not an insight into the complex journey of the 26 bones and 33 joints. In fact, rolling to the inside of the foot is just a one-dimensional shape. Instead, I encourage you to explore the movement of your feet. Instead of trying to control and limit movement, seek to understand and set them free! 

Do you want to learn the exact tools necessary on how to reclaim pronation and the function of your feet? Don’t let foot pain or other nagging injuries become your Achilles heel. Check out The Foot Health Course in our Academy and invest in fixing the most valuable part of your body – your feet!

POWER ATHLETE FOOT HEALTH COURSE: ENROLL NOW!

Are you following the Foot Health program found in the course? How are you enjoying the program so far?

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AUTHOR

Matthew Zanis

PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS Former baseball catcher and an avid outdoorsman. Worked with Division 1 basketball, football, and track and field at the University of Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Cardinals organizations. Received a Bachelors in Athletic Training from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Duke University in 2014. Is board certified in Orthopedics and a Fellow through the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. Is a PT with the United States Olympic Committee and USA Shooting. Currently operates his performance therapy practice in Scottsdale, AZ with Dr. Tom Incledon of Causenta Wellness, and became a Power Athlete Block One Coach in September of 2017.

Dr. Zanis utilizes the Power Athlete Methodology to optimize performance, reduce injury risk, and rehab his clients and athletes through movement assessment, coaching, and individualized program design.

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