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Making Your Feet Function Better – Neurology, Mobility, And Awareness

You're not stuck with what you've got.

I got a lot of emails after the last few posts about feet, pain science, and neural control, as folks began realizing that there is still so much potential ground to be gained when it comes to how their body moves, feels, and performs.

A lot of light bulbs got switched on as folks realized that what you're dealing with in your body is able to be changed and made better – even if you're 70 years old, even if your foot has "never" done that, even if *insert limiting hurdle here*.

Today I'm sharing one reader's email whose question is a common one. He watched this video and realized he couldn't make his own foot do both drills I shared.

These drills are one important part of the process for regaining foot health, improving foot and ankle mobility, and avoiding overuse injuries that are common, but entirely avoidable.

One more thing! My advice for Brent carries over to both drills I showed in the video – so whether you struggle lifting your big toe or you struggle with lifting your other toes – the advice is the same!

Here's Brent's email:

Hey Kate,

I recently came across your blog and really like your discussion topics as they are really intriguing…I was trying one of your neurology drills to improve, in specific the one with the toes.

I can do it easily when lifting my toes and keeping the big toe planted, but when I try it the other way with raising my big toe, this seems to be impossible for me.

What tips or advice do you have to accomplish this challenge? Let me know your thoughts thank you.


Here's my reply:

Hey Brent!

Thanks for reaching out! The foot is meant to have practically as much dexterity as the hand…not quite as much of course since our hands do so much. But consider this – you have 33 joints in your foot and ankle, and over 100 muscles.

The human foot wouldn't contain that much ability to move if it wasn't meant to move.

One common cause of foot dysfunction is years of wearing constrictive shoes
– often from as soon as a child can walk, a parent is putting the kiddo in shoes that constrict the foot. This tweet from Esteban Protheroe demonstrates the point perfectly:

#Retweet if you think regular wear of tapered shoes will result in tapered feet#EngineeringFeat pic.twitter.com/ryKeCUGDtc

— Esteban Protheroe (@runslow4) July 11, 2015

Most standard shoes today are constrictive in nature, even many of the more 'natural' shoes. If they aren't squishing your toes into a more narrow position, they are definitely keeping you from feeling the fine details of how your feet relate to the ground below you.

*This is not a hippie pitch for never wearing shoes again. But it is a blatant request for you to:

Consider all of your shoes and what they are doing to your feetCLICK TO TWEET

And then consider when you could avoid wearing shoes, as well as how you can improve the type of shoe you wear when you need to wear them.*

There's a whole conversation happening about footwear and feet, but that's not the rabbit hole we're diving down today. Moving on…

Another part of the problem is that most folks do nothing about their feet at all, so the only stimulus coming in to the body is "foot, you can chill out, don't worry about getting that bunion and those hammer toes developing, none of these other foot muscles are being used much anyways."

When you're shoeless, you can not only articulate your foot better, but you can feel yourself articulate your foot better to connect to the ground below you. You can squeeze your foot around a narrow, unstable surface if you need to. You can flex your toes straight into the floor to brace yourself against a sudden, surprising movement (like a toddler squirming about in your arms, or a sudden near-miss with the 10 grocery bags you're carrying in).

Practicing drills like the ones I show in the video, and all of the drills in the Strong Feet Pillar ofThe Unbreakable Body, assist you in becoming more cognitively aware of what your foot is doing at any given time.


Practicing in a conscious, controlled environment (during your workout time) is necessary in order to function well in an unconscious, uncontrolled environment (in real life).

In the drills in the video, you're re-training your brain to be able to move your foot in the ways that the muscles within the foot are capable of moving, but likely have not done so in decades. This is why it's hard: you don't have great neural control in that part of your body yet.

You haven't run those neural pathways in a long time. Of course they're not sending a clear signal from the brain to the foot muscles!

If an ideal path from your brain to your muscles looks and acts like a super-highway, your current path might be a barely visible trail, grown over with weeds.

Remember, it's too energy-expensive for your body to keep every neural pathway you've ever made strong, vibrant, and full of well-paved road with no speed limit. So it only keeps what you're using on a regular basis.

The rule is still: use it or lose it.

Here's one fix you can use to help you overcome the initial "it's impossible for me!" hurdle you're sensing:

When clients really struggle, I'll have them place their hand down over the other toes so that they cannot lift them when they lift the big toe. Then, I'll have them notice just how hard they are attempting to flex those other toes while they do the big toe lift. The focus here is to intentionally put your mind into the area of those other toes and see if you can tell them to relax while simultaneously keeping the signal from your brain going that is saying 'lift that big toe!'

Give that a try and let me know how it turns out :)


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