How Your Feet Impact Your Core Strength

postpartum feet
Unfortunately, a larger shoe size isn’t the only not-so-fun result of the changes that can occur in your feet during pregnancy. As crazy as it sounds, those changes can also impact your core strength!  This is due to a little-known connection between your feet and your pelvic floor.  Dr. Emily Splichal — Podiatrist, Human Movement Specialist, and the author of Barefoot Strong: Unlock the Secrets to Movement Longevity — explains this connection and provides some simple techniques to strengthen your core (literally) from the ground up!

 

The Foot to Core Connection

First things first. In the human body, we have 206 muscles, all of which are surrounded by a special type of tissue called fascia. Think of fascia as a type of “saran wrap” that connects every muscle in your body together — from bottom to top.  It is this web-like tissue that connects the muscles of your feet to the muscles of your deep core — or pelvic floor — establishing what’s called the “foot to core connection.”
During pregnancy, a combination of hormonal changes and excess fluid accumulation can cause your feet to grow in length and width, and your arches to become flatter.  And because of the whole fascia connection, unfortunately not fitting into your favorite pair of shoes may not be the only negative side effect!  The widening and flattening of your feet also put increased strain on the muscles of your pelvic floor, which could eventually lead to issues like Diastasis Recti, incontinence, low back pain, and overall instability in your core.  But don’t worry, there are very SIMPLE things you can do to not only help prevent these problems but truly unlock your core strength!

 

Unlocking Your Core Strength

To understand the key to unlocking your core strength, we need to talk about one more connection!  Not only does fascia connect your feet to your pelvic floor, but fascia also connects your pelvic floor to your diaphragm (a critical core muscle that impacts nearly every muscle in your body).  Yes — this means that everything from your core to your feet is connected to the way you breathe!  Therefore, if you can master a style of breathing known as “diaphragmatic breathing” (or belly breathing) with foot activation — you have one very powerful core exercise! The best part is, you can do this exercise anywhere, anytime, throughout your day!  Sound compelling?  See below for 3 simple steps to mastering this technique.  Make sure you master one step before moving to the next.
Step 1: Master Diaphragmatic Breathing
Read the steps below, or watch this YouTube Clip.
  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Ensure that your ribcage and pelvis are stacked (no ribcage flaring), which will put your spine into a neutral position.  Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly.

  2. Begin to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Note which hand moves on the inhalation,  trying to keep the movement only to the hand on your belly.  As you inhale into your belly, you should also feel your rib cage expanding laterally and your pelvic floor relaxing downward.

  3. Follow this deep inhale with an exhale, led by the pelvic floor rising as your belly falls back down.

  4. Continue this movement at least 5 times (or until you have it mastered) — inhaling through your nose and letting the belly rise while your pelvic floor muscles relax downward, then exhaling through your mouth as you draw your pelvic floor muscles up and your belly lowers down.
Step 2: Incorporate Your Pelvic Floor
Once we ensure proper diaphragm function we then can proceed to the pelvic floor.   Follow the steps below, or watch the YouTube Clip.
  1. Start in the same position, lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Imagine that the base of your pelvis is like the face of a clock with 12 o’clock being your pubic symphysis (front of your pelvis) and 6 o’clock as your tailbone.

  2. Begin your diaphragmatic breathing like above — taking 5 seconds to inhale and 10 seconds to exhale.  This time though, as you exhale and engage your pelvic floor, visualize drawing 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock.   This should be associated with the sensation of tension or pressure in your deep abdomen but no movement of the pelvis should occur.

  3. Continue this movement at least 5 times, or until you have it mastered.
Step 3: Incorporate Your Feet
After you feel comfortable with the above two techniques, now you are ready to add in your feet! Follow the steps below, or watch this YouTube Clip.
  1. For this final step, we begin in a standing position, as ultimately that’s how the body functions. NOTE — It’s best to do this barefoot, as there are thousands of nerves in your feet, which we want to stimulate. These nerves are so sensitive that they too are connected to your core!

  2. Begin by standing with your feet facing forward, parallel to each other, and shoulder width apart.  Find your “foot tripod,” which is under your 1st toe (or big toe) and 5th toe (or pinky toe), and your heel.  Lift your toes, spread them out, and place them down on the ground.

  3. Push the tip of your big toes down into the ground. Find the coordination of pushing down and connecting through both big toes at the same time. As you push your big toes down, your pinky toes should also connect to the ground. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat.

  4. Now, let’s try to tie in the feet with the diaphragmatic breathing and pelvic floor activation. Stay standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and a stacked ribcage and pelvis.   Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.

  5. Begin by inhaling through your nose for 5 seconds — feeling your ribcage expand and pelvic floor muscles relax and lower down.

  6. As you exhale through your mouth, start to draw 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock (remember step 2!), feeling the tension of your pelvic floor.  Simultaneously as you exhale, begin to push your big toes down into the ground so that you feel the stability between the feet and core.

  7. Relax, inhale and repeat 5 times or until you have it mastered.  With each repetition, you should notice and appreciate how your breath, deep core, and feet are connected or coordinated.

Once you master the steps above, begin to take this concept of “foot to core” connection into all your exercises.  For example, when doing a squat or bicep curls, remember that on the exhalation the pelvic floor rises and the big toes push down into the ground.  To learn more about foot to core connection please visit www.barefootstrong.com or www.barefootstrongblog.com
Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, is the Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy, Creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist®, BarefootRx® and BARE® Workout Certifications and Inventor of Naboso Barefoot Technology. With over 16 years in the fitness industry, Dr. Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to barefoot science, foot to core integration, and “from the ground up” training.
Dr. Splichal actively sees patients out of her office in Manhattan, NY with a specialty in sports medicine, functional medicine and regenerative medicine (www.dremilysplichal.com). She is actively involved in barefoot training research and barefoot education as it relates to athletic performance, injury prevention, and movement longevity, and serves as a consultant and expert for some of the top fitness, footwear and orthotic companies, including Aetrex Worldwide, Bunion Bootie, Crunch Fitness, Lissom Footwear, NIKE Innovations, PowerPlate USA, RAD Roller and Trigger Point Performance Therapy.