Rodney McBride

The Positive Support Reaction in Strength Training

The Positive Support Reaction in Strength Training

The positive support reaction is a natural reflex located on the bottom of both feet. When stimulated the positive support reaction facilitates (turns on) the extensor muscles (glutes, hamstrings, etc.) on the back side of the body and inhibits (turns off) the flexor muscles (psoas, rectus femoris, etc.) on the front side of the body. The reaction is weight and gate sensitive and responds to either one of those two stimuli. 

You can take advantage of this reflex when strength training by performing all your standing exercises (deadlifts, squats, push presses, cleans, etc.) barefoot. The muscle, ligament and skin proprioceptors that activate this reflex work the best with no shoe support or at the least very little. Basically, with the foot in contact with the floor the positive support reaction is at its strongest. 

Lets take the deadlift as an example. One component of the deadlift technique is to push the floor away from you when lifting the bar off the ground. As you do this the weight of your body plus the weight of the bar compresses the arch in your foot towards the floor. The positive support reaction reflex is stimulated by this compressive force and springs the foot back to its natural arch. This causes the  hamstrings, glutes, back muscles and posterior neck muscles to fire very strongly. And since these are also the same muscles you use to execute the deadlift  you get double the power. Ditto for the squat.

If your gym is adamant about you wearing shoes on the workout floor wear a shoe with a flat sole. The more contact you have with the ground and the more you can feel the ground through your shoes the better. Eliminate any shoe with a thick soul such as running shoes, basketball shoes, etc. You should never substitute a shoe designed for a specific purpose for another task anyway. This could lead to injury. Basketball shoes for basketball. Running shoes for running. Weightlifting shoes for weightlifting. 

I actually rotate back and forth between shoes and bare feet (I keep my socks on). The shoes I do use have a flat soul so I can feel the floor pretty good. But I prefer no shoes. 

On a last note I would recommend employing a flatter soul shoe for general everyday utility. You are always activating this reflex why not promote good use of it.  Walking will be more efficient. Your feet will maintain their natural arch. Runners who barefoot (Vibram shoes) run experience fewer injuries. And of course your strength will improve.


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