What if your feet had a six pack?
I read once that if feet had six packs everyone would pay a lot more attention to them.
It might sound a little silly, but it’s reflective of an important and often unacknowledged issue that pervades the fitness industry.
When it comes to training programs people have a tendency to focus on either getting visible results – the six pack and the biceps – or they focus on specific numbers – how much they can bench, squat or deadlift.
Too often, functionality falls to the bottom of the list. In traditional gym settings, most people’s efforts are focused on arbitrary goals that don’t actually help you to move any better.
Which is why I often wonder now whether we’d pay more attention to our all important feet if they only had a six pack!
Looking good and feeling good aren’t necessarily the same thing
When you ask someone why they train you will usually hear a variation of the sentiment ‘I want to look good and I want to feel good in my body’. It’s a fantastic thing to want really!
But conflating these two distinct concepts – looking good vs feeling good – isn’t always such a great idea.
Because the two don’t always go together.
Rightly or wrongly, the ultimate benchmark of ‘looking good’ in the fitness industry has become the enviable ‘six pack’.
Not only is it incredibly hard to achieve and, in a lot of cases, to hold onto – it usually comes down to a lot more than just training.
Genetics, diet and discipline all come into the equation.
And even after getting there, the question remains – is it a good measure of health?
And even more importantly, will having a six pack make you feel any better?
Unfortunately, the answer is usually no.
While being an obvious and visible sign of discipline and hard work the six pack is not – or at least, it shouldn’t be – the holy grail of health.
Most of the time it actually has very little to do with true health – it’s more of a measure of how much work someone is willing to put into getting a very specific visual outcome.
So… what does this have to do with feet?
From an aesthetic standpoint, paying attention to your feet is going to do very little for your physique.
It’s not going to make your shoulders huge and it’s certainly not going to help get you a six pack of abs.
So why do we spend so much time working on them at Aspen?
Your feet are the first point of contact you have with the world and the health of your feet has a huge impact on how you age.
Immobile, inflexible and brittle feet invariably lead to a pretty rough time when you get into your 50’s and beyond.
Not only will you find it significantly harder to balance but you’ll also be a lot more likely to experience falls.
Your feet will tell you a lot about your health
You’ve probably never paid that much attention to your feet before now.
And you wouldn’t be alone in taking them for granted – especially if you’re young!
But as many older people can attest to, the second it becomes painful to walk, you truly realise how much you rely on them.
Without being able to easily carry weight on your feet, not only is your ability to exercise limited, but so is your lifestyle. If you can’t jog, run, jump or dance, you can’t enjoy moments with grandkids, friends or family – and all the good stuff starts to get taken away.
The science behind the importance of your feet
Your feet are the most distal part of your nervous system and have almost as many sensory receptors as your hands.
These receptors crave stimulation – and if they don’t get it they’ll start to shut down.
Sending messages down to your feet means you are stimulating the nervous system right to the end of the line. It also means you are making the foot a bigger part of your brain’s map of your body.
Your feet also have a direct impact on the lymphatic system. The pumping action of the foot and the Achilles tendon stimulate the flow of lymph meaning that trouble walking directly limits the effectiveness of your lymphatic system as a whole. And an underperforming lymph system leaves your body much more susceptible to illness.
Finally, there’s the connection your feet have to your legs. If you’re looking to improve any lower body based functional movement, you’d better be paying attention to your feet!
That’s because the anatomy of the foot and lower leg is very similar to the anatomy of the hand and the forearm. Anyone that has learned how to play the guitar, or spent time rock climbing will tell you how much working with their hands will leave their forearms fired up just as much.
It’s the same with the feet. The more we use them the more developed all the smaller muscles in the leg become – which ultimately make the leg stronger.
So how do I work on my feet?
So how do we stimulate the feet in the right ways and how do we make sure we are giving them the attention they deserve?
- Massage them
- Learn to move the toes with as much dexterity as possible
- Pick things up with your toes
- Practice balancing on them
- Go barefoot as much as you can
- Pay attention to them
Six packs are good – but healthy feet are better
By focusing on achieving a six pack you will certainly be able to learn a lot about nutrition and cardiovascular fitness.
But focusing on your feet will give you a much wider array of health and functional benefits.
You’ll improve your balance, your nervous system and your lymphatic system
You’ll strengthen your legs and learn to support your whole body.
You’ll improve how your body ages – keeping the doors open to a lot of life’s simple pleasures. And after all, isn’t that what we’re training for?