Foot shape varies markedly, from high prominent arches to lowly pancake feet. Does foot structure impact upon how we move, or is it inconsequential like the shape of one’s nose relative to smelling ability?
A flat foot has long been regarded as detrimental to athletic performance. Impaired balance, reduced power output and increased injury risk are purported negatives of a flat-footed athlete. In World War II, the US Army turned down thousands of potential recruits for this very reason. Even today foot structure is looked upon by professional sporting scouts and military personnel as a marker of insufficiency or increased risk.
The evidence suggests flat-footedness is not a disadvantage. A study conducted in 2009 compared 11-15 year olds after dividing them into four categories based on their foot composition. The participants performed a battery of tests looking at speed, coordination, balance and force production. The results demonstrated no significant differences between the groups.
Further strengthening the notion that flat feet do not effect performance are examples of athletes who have succeeded at the highest level. Said Aouita, the Moroccan track and field athlete won gold at the 1984 Olympics in the 5000m. Also, soccer stars of past and present, David Beckham and Lionel Messi, are believed to have flat feet.
The question beckons – would these athletes have reached higher heights had they not been burdened with flat feet? Did they succeed in spite of their foot structure?
Ideally, more evidence needs to be gathered in a controlled environment to answer this question. At present the research is limited. Future studies focusing on different age groups as well as injury risk, would be useful for budding athletes and recruiters searching for ideal candidates.
Regardless of an individuals foot make-up, training the foot should form part of every training regime, from recreational to professional level. We train every other area of the body, why neglect the humble foot which plays a fundamental role in transferring force and balance?
Adding to this, feet are constrained in shoes for a good portion of the day. The restrictive nature of these casts is incomparable to any other body part, thus the need to mobilise the foot is amplified.