Our structural foundation begins at our feet. If the base is not solid, the body will compensate and eventually collapse. Luckily, there is a lot we can do to reclaim our bodies.
Cramped shoes limit joint function causing our brains to lose the neurological connection to the foot muscles. This contributes to compensation, weakness and injury.
Through our brains capacity to learn new connections, it is possible to improve and even reverse chronic instability of the feet, joint pathologies and pain.
Before You Start Training Your Feet
Consider strengthening your feet to be a long-term project. A little goes a long way, and you must slowly build up with constant small steps.
For example, when rolling your feet, start with softer tools and less pressure. Take it slow and limit the amount of time you perform these exercises.
9 Things You Can Do to Strengthen Your Feet
You may not be able to do all of these, but you can do some of them now Your feet didn’t become weak overnight – it will take consistent effort to build strength.
1. Ditch The Shoes
One of the best things you can do to strengthen your feet is to simply get them out of shoes more often. Begin slowly at first so you don’t make your feet too sore. This can be as simple as taking your shoes off when you’re inside your home.
With your shoes off, raise on your toes and try standing and walking on the balls of your feet.
As you get stronger barefoot, up the duration and become more active (like running and jumping barefoot).
2. Run or Walk in Sand
This may not be possible for everyone, but walking or gently running in sand is a great way to increase the strength and flexibility in your feet. If you don’t have a sandy beach nearby, you can try walking and running barefoot on grass or any soft surface in the warmer weather. These surfaces help improve the joint articulation within your feet, while increasing range of motion and strength.
3. Walk on Rocks
This might sound crazy, but walking or standing and shifting your weight on smooth rocks – the type of small smooth stones used to landscape portions of yards – will do wonders for your feet and body.
The shifting surface of these rocks activates all of the proprioceptive nerves in your feet. There are lots of them and these nerves connect directly with the lower back.
4. Roll Out Your Three Foot Arches
Most people think of only one arch in each foot, but there are actually three. The lateral (outside), transverse (center), and medial (inside) arches work together to spring load your feet, increasing strength, balance, and power when functioning properly. Roll your arches out in this order or you may make your problems worse.
- Lateral (outside) arch – This runs from the heel to pinky toe and is your body’s first floor foundation.
- Transverse (center) arch – Starts behind the ball of your foot and runs to the outer foot. Emphasize rolling from the ball of your foot outward towards the mid to rear-foot.
- Medial (inside) arch – This runs from behind the big toe mound towards the inner heel, but does not directly connect to your heel. Roll from ball of foot to heel.
Be careful not to press too hard in any tender spots.
5. Boards, Bands, and Balance Trainers
Bands: Take a resistance band (flat bands work best), fasten it to a secure point, and place the other end of the band around the top of your foot below your toes. In a seated position, extend legs straight on the floor, create tension on the band and pull your foot towards your shin. Perform reps by flexing and extending your foot, or move your body back while maintaining a dorsiflexed position to create more tension.
Boards: Position the slant board near a wall or doorframe so you can lean slightly forward and place your feet on the board with your toes facing up. With a slight lean forward perform calf raises, holding the top position to create maximum extension of your toes.
Balance Trainer: Use a BOSU, if you have one, and position your feet so your toes are higher than your heels. From this position (dorsiflexion with inversion) perform squats, weight shifts, running in place, and jumps.
The following exercises may be difficult to perform due to the weakened neurologic connection to the muscles. Keep trying and they will improve as the neural circuits to your foot improves. If these exercises are too difficult you can use your hands to stabilize the toes that aren’t designed to move, allowing you to better move the desired toe.
6. Little Toes Lift
This exercise targets the extensor digitorum brevis and longus.
Keep the big toe pressing down into the floor while lifting the other toes up towards the ceiling. Keep the foot arch strong. Don’t let the foot to roll in, collapsing the arch, while lifting the small toes up.
7. Big Toe Lift
This exercise targets the extensor hallucis brevis and longus.
Raise your big toe while keeping the other toes flat on the floor. Don’t allow the foot to roll out as you perform this AND keep the little toes long and relaxed to avoid over-gripping. The more you practice this the better you will get.
8. Big Toe Abduction
This exercise targets the abductor hallucis.
This is probably the most challenging of these. While keeping the little toes relaxed, bring the big toe in towards the midline of your body and back. Maintain the foot arch to avoid allowing the foot to collapse inward.
9. Short Foot
This exercise targets the quadratus plantae, and other intrinsic flexors.
Focus on bringing the base of the big toe and heel towards one another, by lifting the arch of the foot. Keep the toes long and flat on the floor as the motion should come from the arch of your foot.
While it might be frustrating at first, persistence pays off! Keep working in small doses of 5-10 minutes a day and over time you will see and feel improvement. If you are seeking customized programming for your needs, I do that!