After pregnancy, we place a lot of emphasis on strengthening the core and restoring healthy pelvic floor muscles.
But your feet are just as important!
Your feet affect your ENTIRE body.
They’re important shock absorbers.
They set the foundation for all of your movement patterns.
And they’re your literal connection to the earth, providing oodles of sensory information that your brain uses to understand your place in the world.
If you want to reconnect to your body postpartum- cultivating a deeper connection to your feet is a big fat piece of that.
So let’s chat about how pregnancy impacts your feet. And how, in turn, your feet impact my darlings, the glutes and pelvic floor.
The Complexity of Feet
The feet are the most complicated part of the body. With over 26 bones, 29 muscles and 33 joints, your feet deftly adapt on the fly to constantly shifting terrain, loads and activities.
So let’s give credit where credit’s due.
That said, it’s tough to talk about feet without using a lot of jargon.
They’re incredibly complex. So while I’ll try and break it down, here’s a heads up that this one gets a little deeper into the weeds of biomechanics.
But stick with me, it’s worth it;)
Before going too deep, let’s start with some really basic information about how your feet move:
What Are Pronation and Supination?
When it comes to your feet, they need to be able to pronate and supinate.
These are words you might have heard when you’ve gone to get fit for running shoes.
When your feet pronate, your arches gets flatter. We say they’re internally rotating.
When you supinate, your arches gets higher. They’re externally rotating.
Both are required for full, healthy range of motion for the feet.
How Do Your Feet Affect Your Pelvic Floor?
Full range of motion at the feet is necessary for full range of motion at the hip, pelvis and in their associated musculature (helloooo glutes and pelvic floor!).
The feet impact the pelvic floor in at least two ways:
1) Through soft tissue
The arch of your foot and your pelvic floor are connected through webs of soft tissue called fascia.
Think about wearing a pair of pantyhose (does anyone still do that? But bear with me…). And then think about taking a pinch of the fabric by your feet and twisting it. And twisting it. And twisting it.
Eventually you’ll start to pull down the waist band, even though you’re winding up the fabric of the foot.
If the tissues in your foot are tight, your soft tissues will translate that tightness all the way up to your pelvic floor.
2) Through hard structures
Your feet connect to the pelvis through bones and joints of leg.
Rotation in your feet dictates the way your tibia (shin bone) rotates.
Which in turn dictates how your femur (thigh bone) rotates.
Which in turn dicates how your pelvic bones rotate.
If your feet are stuck in a high arch, an externally rotated shape, that rotation will travel up through the legs to the hip and pelvis.
Your pelvis is likely to be biased into external rotation too.
A pelvis that is always externally rotated puts the pelvic floor in a short, tight position.
If you have flat feet, your pelvis is biased into more internal rotation.
In an internally rotated pelvis, the pelvic floor may be “stuck” in a more lengthened position.
If the pelvic floor is stuck in a short position OR a long position, it can’t dynamically respond to changes in load during activities of daily living or exercise.
In an ideal scenario, the pelvic floor is supple and has access to a full range of motion for optimal function.
But it’s not just the pelvic floor.
What Is The Foot-Glute Connection?
The mobility of the foot also impacts glute strength through it’s role in biasing rotation at the pelvis.
If you can’t pronate, for example, it becomes difficult to internally rotate at the hip (think: rotating your femur or thigh in towards your midline).
Internal rotation at the hip is necessary to find a good hip hinge.
To get down into a deep squat.
To load the legs during gait.
To create propulsion during athletic movements.
If you can’t pronate, and you can’t find internal rotation at the hips, the butt muscles become short and tight. In a chronically shortened state, they’re less available and less effective.
Limited mobility at the feet –> less strength in the butt muscles.
How Does Pregnancy Affect Your Feet?
So, what does this have to do with pregnancy and postpartum?
1) During pregnancy, the pelvis externally rotates to accomodate the growing fetus and many folks (certainly not all) will notice that they’re feet begin to turn outwards as well.
You see this in the “pregnancy waddle”.
When the feet are out-turned, there’s a tendancy to get stuck in a “high-arch” or “supinated” position.
2) On the other hand, you might have noticed that your feet grew wider during pregnancy. That comes along with a flattening of your arch.
Many people actually get stuck with FLAT feet after pregnancy.
While it’s hard to predict HOW feet will change during pregnancy, chances are good, they’ll be impacted.
Between a changing center of mass, relaxin-induced spreading of the feet and changes that propegate down from the pelvis- the information we collect from our feet is going to look vastly different before and after pregnancy.
Restoring a solid mind-body connection to the feet is an essentional component of rehabbing a postpartum body.
Cultivate A Deeper Connection To Your Feet
Feet are the most complicated.
I’m just scratching the surface here because I’m learning with you.
And what I know for sure, is that there’s no single corrective for everyone.
So rather than offering armchair diagnosis and specific corrective exercises, I want to offer you a few SIMPLE tools that I have seen work well for improving sensory awareness and mobility of the feet.
1) Take your shoes off.
Shoes limit your foot and ankle mobility and they limit the sensory imput you get from the ground.
Exercising without your shoes on will provide greater sensory input from the ground and improve your proprioception. Your balance will improve as your foot mobility improves.
And your mobility will improve as the muscles of the feet and lower loeg are challenged to respond to a variety of surfaces and assymetrical positions.
Taking off your shoes is low hanging fruit- this is the most passive way to improve your foot health.
I recommend using your strength training workouts to experiment with spending time barefoot.
2) Find your tripod foot.
Think of your foot like a tripod, with three points of contact with the ground.
The tripod is made up of your heel, the knuckle of your big toe, and the knuckle of your pinky toe.
Stand barefoot and consider your feet.
Can you feel all three points of contact?
Does the pressure feel equally distributed over all three points of contact?
As you go through your workouts, think about keeping your tripod foot on the ground. Especially during hinges, squats and split stance exercises (keep the stance foot grounded through the tripod).
3) Dynamic Foot Drill
Try this foot drill to build awareness of how your foot dynamically responds to changes in your body position.
Technically, this is a pronation drill. An internal rotation drill.
It will enable you to feel your weight shift through your foot as you load your body weight over your foot.
It’s also great practice for keeping your tripod foot on the ground as your weight shifts.
Work through this SLOWLY. If you work through it quickly, you will have a hard time feeling the weight shift through your foot.
Whether it’s through bones or through soft tissue- it’s clear that your feet, your pelvic floor and your glutes have a close relationship.
If you want strong glutes and a healthy pelvic floor that can respond reflexively to the demands of daily life and exercise, it begins with good range of motion in the feet.
The most simple place to start is by simple spending more time with your shoes off.
Let your feet move more.
And spend some time cultivating a connection with your feet and bring greater awareness to the points of contact you share with the ground.
If you want to to take a whole body, core and pelvic floor informed approach to your postpartum fitness, check out Stronger Postpartum or contect me to set up a time to discuss one-on-one personal training.
My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.
I offer customized, online pregnancy and postpartum personal training to folks locally (Seattle-area, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland) and beyond.
Laura Jawad holds a PhD and a personal training certification (NASM). She’s a proud Certified Prenatal & Postnatal Coach and Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coach. You can check out the rest of her alphabet soup here.