I recently wrote about the importance of the feet in the delivery of ground reaction force to the hands while striking. That is, by driving from the feet the power of a punch can be enhanced. I was reminded of this concept when skipping through an old text book Joint Structure and Function: A Comprehensive Analysis
from the Functional Anatomy course I took at university.
It’s been a while since I had a good look at the anatomy of the foot and it struck me how amazing the structure is. Previously, I couldn’t imagine that the foot/ankle complex comprised of 28 bones which formed 25 joints. That’s incredible! I had always thought of the foot as a pretty solid structure with joints at the ankle and the toes, and very little else.
Obviously the foot/ankle complex has a weight bearing role within its stability and mobility functions. It provides the base of support for the body and acts as a lever for ‘push-off’ when initiating movement. During mobility it has a dampening effect of rotational movement while it’s flexibility helps absorb body weight as the foot contacts the ground and contorts sufficiently to conform to the terrain on which it is placed. This contortion is what I want to consider in this post, although the other functions are intrinsically linked and cannot really be considered separate.
The structure forms three arches – medial longitudinal arch (on the inside), lateral longitudinal arch (outside) and the anterior arch (across the foot) – which combine to allow the foot additional movement to simple extension and flexion* at the ankle (more than just a hinge action at the ankle). Actually, an incredible range of motion across the foot/ankle complex is possible which is used during regular gait. The two diagrams below illustrate this nicely (from root2being)
This means that the front portion of the foot can remain on the ground during extreme pronation and supination, thereby enabling optimal push-off at a variety of angles. Put simply the foot bends and twists, and internally compensates for the resultant contortion, to ensure we can push against the floor as long as possible in a given direction. This maximises traction at the front of the foot allowing ground reaction force to be transferred into the movement.
The amazing range of movement at the ankle and within the foot mean we can stay ‘grounded’, and so press against it, while moving and adjusting our position. Of course we need to be able to do ‘grounded’ in the first place and maintain it during movement.
Naturally, we press against the floor and can push off effectively in a variety of angles, when playing football for example. However, certain training methods in the martial arts, can encourage us to use our feet less effectively than natures default. I often observe people who fail to use the feet while striking, they are often pointing away from the target allowing only a small portion of the foot to press against the floor in the optimal direction.
You wouldn’t use penguin feet to push a car, so why would you do the equivalent of this while striking?
*this motion at the ankle is known as dorsiflexion and plantarflexion