Foot the lot of you – My relationship with the foot and the industry

by | Oct 7, 2018 |

Before I got drawn into the deep recesses of anatomy through means which I will explain later, my foot was the thing I used to kick balls, and my ankle was an annoying bobbly part of my leg that held my foot on. As a kid playing football, I would twist my ankle a lot, bandage it up and carry on, because nothing stopped me playing football (soccer for my US readers).

Initially, in both my degree and then in my first few years in the fitness industry, the only attention I paid to the lower part of my legs would revolve around trying to help people with small calves, try and get them as big as mine. (Try to be massive for most of your life is my new advice). Below is a photo that represents the struggles of having a large calf and trying to find trousers.  Modern fashion stinks!

In 2003 I was introduced to Gary Gray, who I decided was gifted with the ability to get in front of the science, something backed up by his co-lecturer Dr Dave Tiberio, who made a cracking case for using case studies as evidence because of techniques so far ahead that the industry could not see them. They sold a story of being outcasted by the Physical Therapy institutions and I bought it hook line and sinker. The thought of being a rebel and changing the industry had the rock’n’roll, and anarchist attitude I was looking for in my career. As a trainer who did not count macro’s, keep all my food in plastic boxes and who carried puppy fat (not sure on the age you have to be in order to accept it is just fat), I already felt like an outcast so this thought process worked for me.

They made a case to learn about the foot, and in my world at least they were the first to put importance on the foot, suggesting that everything in human movement is a chain reaction which most often starts at the foot as opposed to anywhere else in the body. Below is a photo of me literally being punched in the face while wearing a Gray Institute hoody on a day I presented for the Gray Institute. I wish the punch had knocked in the role of centre of gravity and the central nervous system into my head as well, it would have saved me a few years!

It has been claimed, and it still is being argued that the foot and ankle have a massive influence on the human body. Here are some of the things being said today, which convinced a more naive version of me to try and learn more.

Postural alignment is vital to reduce injury and pain, and the most critical body part is the foot and ankle

An asymmetrical walking gait shows up pains, injuries and future injuries

Symmetrical dynamic postural alignment will produce better performance

The foot is the key to motion in the whole body, all the way up to the shoulders

Heel foot running comes from shoes and is harmful

Dysfunctional Feet can be present without Pain

Optimal Foot Mobility is possible and measurable

An example of how companies try and persuade you that science is split into good science and bad science. When they do this they use the idea of research scientists being out of the loop and therapists being the main source of science –

“After three years of science (not the kind that you read in a journal – real, objective, proven science by working on ourselves and patients we treat), our team has witnessed results to the point that we feel confident sharing it with others as an effective system. We don’t claim to know everything or have the best system, but we do know that it WORKS and its based on logic, reason, use of the scientific method, physiological and biological consideration and an unbiased mission to restore strong, functional and pain-free feet.” (Barefoot education website)

The above statement is a great reflection of everything that is wrong in my industry and also a way of showing how difficult it can be to choose the right education in our industry. I truly believe that the company behind that quote fully believe that they are ahead of Universities that study movement, injury, performance and rehabilitation. I am not sure if I want to hug them or I want to call them up and shout at them!

The foot is amazingly complicated, yet it allows you to become the expert so quickly, mainly because no one else will take the time to learn it.  The foot and ankle have so many components to it, I can see how people would and could get carried away with this mystical part of the body. Whether or not it has a significant influence on the body and in movement is something that is not as proven as it is perhaps made out.

When we started looking at foot types and fixing these through orthotics, I had enough information to blow people away. I was beginning to feel great being a foot expert.

In 2012 as I wrote and taught the above course, I was already starting to hit a point where I was beginning to see problems. The real research from a filtered selection of papers, where I took in to account the standard of the journal the paper was in, the age, the number of people in the study, that they were human, that there was a statistical significance in the result, that the result was relevant to the statement made was suggesting doubt or contradictory evidence against the claims that I believed to be true –

Trigger pointing for foot mobility and pain relief
Hands-on techniques for foot mobility
Foot alignment through orthotics
Reduction of pain through the chain, from the foot
Shoe choice for the alleviation of symptoms and improved performance

None of these points above had been proven, relying on case study and anecdote to support them. As you can see in my video notes, I was not as right as I thought I was, but the detail helped me hide my lack of real knowledge and allowed me to convince myself I could almost heel (pun!) people.

What could I do though? I had built a reputation on this material, my clients loved my magic hands, and my students wanted to be me! Do you go with what is right? Potentially I could alienate my industry friends who were peddling the foot and ankle, taping, scraping, trigger pointing and using dubious, unproven techniques for short-term gains, or do I stay quiet and earn money from what I thought I knew? Would it hurt to just keep using these techniques? These techniques must have at least a placebo effect I thought. The list of justification and the fear of loss started to build up and make me want to hold on to the past.

The Biopsychosocial model was also being bandied around at this time, a model that suggested the main agreed on way of dealing with injury and pain, the biomedical model, was wrong. (Read more here and here)

Could it be that I had backed the wrong horse? Should I be looking more at the brains involvement? It is a tough question because as I tested the water with comments and questions, the pushback from ‘friends’ in the industry was strong. Even now I have people making good money on my old course content.

The biomedical model was so good to me, I just looked at the structure and then worked on correcting it. Despite the evidence, that I was not looking at, I could see and hear results. As any good scientist will tell you, that an observed result on one person, would not show any evidence of anything.  Just trying to eliminate all the aspects of the ‘treatment’ would be difficult, let alone replicating this, finding big enough groups to have a control group as well as a group to be tested.  Seeing and hearing should not be believing, and experts tend to think that they know what they did and why it worked, without needing to check research to see what actually happened.  It was this trap I fell into. The biomedical model removes the importance of emotion and treats the body as a mechanical body of chemicals.

The Biopsychosocial model though was not being explained well. It confused me enough I wanted to give it space and not even read up on it. Even now there is a large number of experts who come from massage, fascial training, structural training and the biomedical model of treatment who still do not understand the biopsychosocial model, in my opinion. It is this group of trainers who seem to be most vocal about the subject.

If you get into the research around the Biopsychosocial model, then people argue that it is too vague. Essentially the model is merely describing the way all interactions and interventions can affect the client across Biological, Psychological and Social Psychological aspects of their being. The biomedical model is about correcting the structure or the chemical makeup of the client, to reduce or remove their pain, injury or illness.

To distract me from this upcoming dilemma I  threw myself into the development of a different course, one away from this debate, one I called Neural Notching. This new course focused on the development of skill and performance instead of injury and pain. I researched skill development and performance. Reading the research was very interesting as it provided evidence on techniques and some other components of training that I used, and turned the reason for using them upside down. I will explain later, but this course, Neural Notching, is the one that not only helped me to start to think differently but also that set my new students up to make a massive difference in peoples lives.

Neural Notching did a fantastic thing for my students, this is a small video of techniques for helping the foot get mobilised, from my friend and student, Ollie, who cites Neural Notching as the reason he has been able to move from a £30 trainer to a £120 trainer in three years!

After writing Neural Notching and watching social media start to provide a platform for scientists to come out of their shell and challenge Guru’s, my reputation was in the right place to take a battering. For only the second time in my life, I could not present, I was not fully committed to the content of any of my courses, except FTE and Neural Notching. I seriously considered leaving the industry!!

Conflict in the industry was growing and I was feeling the pressure. Potential students were saying that my company was just a lighter version of Gray Institute. Students who had taken my course previously were taking my content and presenting it as their own. Some of the older students, tutors and industry experts I thought of as my closest friends were bad mouthing my company and taking on the work for themselves. It was being born out of my hesitation to openly admit I was wrong. These companies were and are peddling the rubbish that I had been doing years before. Trainers are still buying it because they are not strong enough to fight the fear-based under-researched training that promised quick fixes.

Professionals are standing up on videos and making outrageous claims about tape, shoes, 3D motion, postural assessments and other fear-based training, and no one is challenging them. How professionals can do this when tape companies and shoe companies, to name a few, are losing court cases or settling out of court because of false claims is unbelievable and irresponsible. Some of the gurus I loved are backing products that have no evidence. One old student has built a business on my HMAC (a movement analysis chart designed to help you see movement) and is selling a course where he won’t share where his proof has come from, mainly because like my class in 2008; it is based on guess and guruism. Physiotherapists and Chiropractors, buy this stuff too!!

The amount of foam rolling, vibrating and fixing going on is ridiculous. On the pain science side, there are guru’s and experts that are still peddling fear and misinformation/interpretation on the evidence and backing poorly researched techniques because their mates write them. My new challenge was to find a place to fit in, a space in the industry that would suit a former football coach that loved seeing his students growing and being successful, but wants to do it the right way.

So what should I do? In 2015 the industry had turned its back on my business but people and companies were blatantly stealing my material, material that in 2018 I am not sure I would even still let out based on current evidence, but that aside, changing a few words, pretending my business did not do the work or going quiet convinced no one.  At this point, I did have an amazing set of trainers coming through the FASTER process again, with a top-level set of FTE students.  FTE is the name of the programme I redesigned and made into a one-year training, career-long invite course, designed to make these trainers the best in the industry and arm them to teach my programmes across the UK and World hopefully.

It was 2015/16 on the back of my inspirational students on the FTE I decided that no matter what the pain would be, I would bring FASTER back into the forefront of the industry. The foot is great, and you should know about it, but lets cut the crap and start telling the truth. I decided to make it my job to build a community of trainers who could stand on their own when it comes to research, creating content, presenting content and understanding how to have integrity in a low standard industry. Although some of my FTE students struggle with this, I make it my job to drag them through so they can experience the fantastic feeling of being right because you have the evidence.

This article started about the foot, and that is where my journey started.  Actually, it was never about the foot and ankle, it was about my need to be the best and my drive to help the industry.  I want the reader (you) to understand that in this story the foot was the MacGuffin that allowed me to meet the research and other techniques I needed to be the best trainer and educator I could be.  Finding the skills that I list further on, allowed me to communicate in a way that gives my students the ability to deliver memorable sessions every session, and allows their clients have the best experience while progressing efficiently to their specific goal.  Reading this story I hope that I save at least one person from buying a course because it is cool, to save one person from falling for bad scientific reasoning that boils down to opinion and guesswork, and to help at least one person make choices that massively improve their own lives and all their trainers lives.

Now I use the foot to help show how easy very complicated structures can be, and by doing this, I am also starting to produce industry leaders who call out the gurus who cannot back their claims. It feels more than okay.

This is where we are, to be a great Trainer or Therapist then you need to do the following (using science) –

“Give the client what they want the way they want it.”

You need to have the following skills to do this –

Questioning Skills – to find the right questions to ask for your clients, not influenced by gurus or equipment companies

Research skills – to find, read and make decisions on the balance of great research

Communication Skills – how to use detail such as environment, physical distance, tempo, word choice, tone, delivery and more to help change clients emotion. A primary factor includes burying your protective ego to allow you to be the trainer/therapist you need to be for the client in front of you

Biomechanical Analysis Skills – how to see motion, and predict movement, then work with the differences you did not expect without any prior expectation

Exercise design for Performance and Skill Development – knowing the different techniques for skill development and performance, the importance of hands-off and hands-on and how to apply training tools to magnify results.

Story Telling – The real way of building programmes, social media and content in a way that moves emotion and communicates your point precisely and measurably.

I don’t have all the answers on the foot or anything else, but I have a way of teaching that will give you the confidence to be yourself and help your clients in a way that is not only following research but is memorable for them and allows them to take it away and use it forever.  All my research and how you can find research is contained in these courses.  However if you want to know more, or a list of evidence to back any claim in this article you should email me on John@fasterglobal.com and I will be more than happy to help you out.

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