There are 26 bones in each foot. There are 206 bones in the entire human body. This means a quarter (52) of the bones in your body are in your feet.
If the foot wasn’t important, it would just probably be one big bone.
The foot is arguably one of the most overlooked and underappreciated areas of the body when it comes to fitness training. I’m hoping this article will provide some insight on:
As I stated before, the foot/ankle complex has 26 bones. While I am not going to go over each and every one of them here, I can give a general idea of its structure
The heel bone, or the “Calcaneus”, is at the back of the foot, and it is arguably the most important out of all the foot bones, seeing as how it is the bone that first makes contact with the ground during walking. Its reaction to this ground contact is critical to the foot’s function, and I will touch on that later in this article.
The next noteworthy bone is called the “Talus”. The talus is located immediately under the shin bone (Tibia) and sits on top of the heel bone. This bone is noteworthy in that it has zero (0) muscular attachments. It is purely a reactionary bone, whose role is critical in absorbing force when landing and transmitting force when pushing off.
The connection of the talus to the top of the heel bone is referred to as the “Sub-talar Joint”, or in general terms the “rear-foot”.
The next area of the foot, referred to as the “Mid-tarsal joint” or the “Mid-foot” is a cluster of smaller bones that connect the rear-foot to the fore-foot. The midtarsal joint plays another pivotal role in the dual function of the foot, as I will elaborate in the next section.
Lastly, the forefoot is made up of 5 chains of bones called metatarsals (‘ball” of the foot) and phalanges (toes). Structurally, it’s worth noting the chain of bones leading up to big toe is called the “first ray”, and with the midtarsal joint creates the arch of the foot.
The foot has 2 main jobs: It needs to be a mobile adapter, and it needs to be a stable propeller.
*****This part can get pretty science-y, so I’ll speak as generally as I can. If you don’t want to read up on all of the nitty gritty, you can scroll ahead to the quick summary (Too long; didn’t read).*****
The foot needs to be able to serve as a flexible shock absorber for the body when it hits the ground, yet at the same time it needs to become a rigid force transmitter when it pushes off of the ground.
How can it accomplish both of these seemingly polar opposite tasks?
You may have heard the terms “pronation” and “supination” before. I’ll define what those mean:
Pronation is a term used to describe the combination of movements that occur when the pressure of the foot rolls to the inside edge, and the arch collapses. This is critical for force absorption as it starts, not one, but TWO important chain reactions: unlocking the midfoot, and activating the leg muscles.
In pronation, the heel bone rolls toward its inside edge, which is a motion called “eversion”. When the heel everts, the talus slides down the top of the heel, like a surfboard on a wave. This motion acts like a deadbolt opening up the bones of the mid tarsal joint to become flexible (arch collapses), which allows them to be able to adapt to whatever surface and slope the person is walking on, and allows as a shock absorber for the gravity and ground reaction forces experienced in walking.
If the foot is not able to absorb the force very well, then that force must be dissipated by another area of the body, often times the knee, potentially causing knee pain.
Next, looking up: Since the talus is stuck to the underside of the shinbone, wherever the talus goes, so does the shinbone. The shin, in this case, is our surfer. When that talus glides on top of the heel bone towards the inside edge of the foot, it will cause the shin to do 2 things to activate the leg muscles.
The shin will lean over the foot (think knee heading over the toes), which activates the calf and quad muscles to control the motion. The shin will also rotate internally, which naturally activates the glutes and hamstrings to control the motion. They are able to transmit them back down into the foot as it supinates to push off of the ground.
Supination is the combination of motions in the foot where the pressure of the foot shifts to the outer edge of the foot, and the arch reforms itself. This is critical to allow the foot to be stable enough for a solid push off from the forces provided by the leg muscles.
The biggest key for supination to be successful is the heel bone motion called “inversion”, where the heel bone rolls to its outer edge. Opposite of eversion, this motion puts the talus in place back on top and puts the “deadbolt” back in the mid tarsal joint. This is what stabilizes the foot for pushing off the ground, so we are not propelling our body with a “wet noodle”.
If sufficient supination doesn’t occur, we are less forceful in pushing off the ground, and the soft tissue of the foot may become over stressed, a condition called plantar fasciitis.
TL;DR: When the foot hits the ground, the bones realign to become flexible to adapt to the ground, and starts a chain reaction up the leg to activate the muscles. The force from those muscles causes the bones to realign and become solid to push off of the ground.
In terms of golf, when in our swing do we need the feet to be mobile, and when do we need them to be stable?
We want our feet to be more mobile in the back swing, when we are loading the muscles to generate force for our downswing, and we want our feet to be more stable at impact and our follow through as we decelerate the speed of our body and the club.
In the back swing, our body is rotating and coiling over our trail leg, generating force. If the foot is not mobile enough to stay pronated on the ground as the body above it rotates, the body may compensate, leading to a sway, early extension, loss of posture, or other swing characteristics we look out for, and it may lessen or limit the efficiency of force production.
At impact and into the follow through, the lead foot needs to be in the stable, supinated position to provide a solid leg to transmit all of the forces that the body has generated and is delivering through the club into the ball, and then solid enough to create a stable base on which we can decelerate those forces into a controlled finish. If that foot is not able to maintain its stability, you may be losing some power into the golf ball, and uncontrolled forces may lead to injury.
The fitness trainers at SMART Golf program foot exercises into training programs to ensure you’re getting the most comprehensive fitness work accomplished. Balance and mobility work help to improve the foot’s ability to be a mobile adapter, and single leg strength exercises allow the foot to be a stable propeller.
The feet are critically important, not only to success in the golf swing, but in function in general. As you may recall from my last post, there are numerous Hidden Habits in a round of golf that can affect your feet. Plus, simply walking the course can strengthen your feet over time leading to a better swing.
Remember, there are 26 bones in each foot. There are 206 bones in the entire human body. This means a quarter (52) of the bones in your body are in your feet.
If the foot wasn’t important, it would just probably be one big bone.
Dan Ellis is a Golf Fitness Instructor at SMART Golf & Fitness Instruction. Dan is an Arlington Heights native, and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2007 with a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology. That year he moved to Austin, Texas to pursue and earn a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology at the University of Texas, and begin his career in the fitness and sports performance industry. While earning his Masters, Dan was a volunteer strength coach for the UT men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as coaching local golfers, high school, and college athletes.
After Texas, Dan spent 2 seasons as a minor league strength coach in the Oakland A’s farm system, including 1 season with the Kane County Cougars. Since then, Dan has remained in Chicago working with people, golfers, and athletes of all ages and abilities, from youth to NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB, and the Olympics.
Click here to learn more about Dan.
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