Pronation, Foot Function, and Athletic Longevity

I think that title pretty much says it all. At least with respect to this week’s topic. May is Human Locomotion Month at The Lifetime Athlete and this week we are studying the motion of the foot and how it can be leveraged for peak performance and long term health.

This week’s MasterClass took a deep dive into all things whiteboard and biomechanics. The attendee feedback was excellent. I also provided a brief review of this content on the YT channel and there is a lively discussion on this topic on this week’s podcast as well.

But if you like to read your material (and I thank you for doing so), here are a few simple bullets that can help you to garner a better understanding of what’s going on at your skeletal foundation:

  • The foot is an amazing piece of architecture and engineering. It has 28 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels.
  • Bipedal humans locomote (unless we are swimming or crawling) and we do this by walking, jogging, running, and sprinting.
  • Gait has a stance phase when the foot is on the ground and a swing phase when it is airborne.
  • Pronation is just a word…it’s not a disease. It simply describes how the foot moves about a unique axis to lower its 3 arches (medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal, and transverse metatarsal) and accommodate to the support surface. The calcaneus everts, the talus dorsiflexes, and the forefoot abducts. This unlocks the foot, makes it flexible, and allows it to adapt to the ground. Pronation turns the foot into a “paw.”
  • Supination is the reverse of pronation. It locks up the foot and converts it into a rigid lever for push off. It essentially makes the foot into a “claw.”
  • It’s this “claw” to “paw” to “claw” conversion cycle that makes the foot so effective…in every gait cycle.
  • Footstrike generally (and optimally) occurs on the lateral side of the foot. This initial contact is at the heel during walking and usually moves toward the forefoot as speed increases. (acceleration, jumping, landing, and cutting are different).
  • The force which passes through the foot (plantar pressures) takes different paths depending on individual anatomy and speed of gait.
  • The end goal of the foot on the ground is to push off the big toe with a rigid foot. This is accomplished by the appropriate timing of resupination as we progress toward toe off.
  • A debate currently rages among thought leaders regarding terminology. A person can inadequately pronate, or underpronate, and they can also move into excessive loading which may be called overpronation or whole foot eversion.
  • Where folks get into trouble with pronation is in the following aspects:
    • Rate: getting there too fast.
    • Amplitude: bottoming out at end range.
    • DURATION: staying pronated too long or late in the cycle and pushing off the medial aspect of the big toe with a flexible, unstable foot
  • Many of the issues we modern humans face with our foot function is at least in part related to constant shoe wear and foot atrophy.
  • Awareness, exercises, footwear, and orthotics all have a potential place in the management of pronatory problems and in the optimization of foot, body, and athlete performance. 

If you’d like more information on this great topic, check out the resources I mentioned above. Also, if you love taking deeper dives into human performance, join me for a MasterClass. Next week’s session will explore the common problem of plantar fasciitis, and ways to mobilize and strengthen your feet for better health, and pain-free athletic excellence.

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