Foot Core Training: Fitness Fad or Scientific Breakthrough?

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Beginning with the running craze of the 1970s and continuing with aerobic dance, step aerobics, functional training, CrossFit and a plethora of other less popular trends, exercise training for fitness and performance has rapidly evolved over the past few decades, and science has been hard-pressed to keep up. One recent popular trend, brought to the fore by proponents of barefoot running, is foot core training.

What is Foot Core Training?

Simply put, foot core training focuses on strengthening the intrinsic muscles that support the arch of the foot, enabling the foot to adapt throughout the gait cycle during walking and running. The foot intrinsic muscles give the arch its spring-like action as the muscles store elastic energy at heel strike, to be released at the push-off phase of the gait cycle. When the foot core muscles are weakened or not properly activated, the risk of pain and injury increases.

Not a New Idea

While foot core training is a fairly recent fad, it is not a new concept. In the 1980s, Professor Vladimir Janda of Prague’s prestigious Charles University School of Medicine introduced Short Foot training, targeting the intrinsic arch muscles to address foot pain and gait dysfunction. Janda found that when short foot exercises were performed 15 minutes a day for seven days, activation speed of the gluteal muscles increased by 200 percent. In other words, strong intrinsic foot muscles affect the gait performance of other muscles in the lower kinetic chain.

Beneficial, But is It Enough?

All in all, foot core training appears to be a valid and valuable treatment option to address gait deficiencies and chronic foot pain. However, in some instances the bony structures of the foot are at fault, and changing them can be difficult to impossible.

Conditions that may benefit from foot core training include:

  • Heel pain
  • Shin splints
  • Ankle pain and instability
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Over pronation of the foot
  • Flat feet or high arches

Despite the benefits of foot core training, foot pain and gait deficiencies often originate in other areas of the body, and focusing on intrinsic foot strengthening to the neglect of other issues like posture, gait mechanics, muscle imbalances and poor flexibility is a mistake.

Moreover, specificity of training cannot be ignored. Foot muscle strengthening performed at low velocities or isometrically using minimal force loads may have functional rehabilitative benefits for activities of daily living, but those benefits may be insignificant in athletes who sprint and jump at high levels of intensity.

A randomized controlled trial by Fourchet et al. (2011) looked at the impact of foot medial arch and extrinsic ankle muscle strengthening exercises on plantar loading characteristics during sprinting in young male athletes. They found that the foot training exercises produced a desirable lateral load transfer from the medial and central forefoot to the lateral part of the heel, but an undesirable posterior transfer of plantar loads. Foot training exercises did not have a significant effect on sprinting performance.

Foot Pain Treatment in NYC

The foot pain specialists at NYDNRehab have developed a unique comprehensive approach to treating foot pain and gait deficiencies. Using CAREN, our computer assisted virtual reality rehab environment, we are able to simulate real-life conditions that train the muscles, joints and central nervous system to respond efficiently through interactive feedback. Our approach enables us to individualize our treatment protocols for patients ranging from disabled older adults to elite athletes.

If you suffer from foot pain or other issues associated with walking or running, don’t assume that foot core training alone is sufficient to relieve pain and improve performance. At NYDNR, we use the latest technologies to analyze your gait and diagnose your condition. We then design a patient-specific treatment plan to restore optimal function and performance, and relieve pain.

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Source

Fourchet, François, et al. “Effects of combined foot/ankle electromyostimulation and resistance training on the in-shoe plantar pressure patterns during sprint in young athletes.” Journal of sports science & medicine 10.2 (2011): 292.

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