You already work out your arms, legs, and chest, but there’s a body part you’ve almost certainly missed in your training, and it’s one of the most important of all: your feet. In almost any activity you do, your feet are your foundation. They provide the balance and support for nearly all movement, so any lack of mobility and strength in your feet can compromise your ability to run, jump, lift, and even walk efficiently and pain-free. Start treating your feet like all your other muscle groups, and build a bedrock of strength, agility, and performance. Use these tips to train your feet.
Know Your “Foot Complex”
Approximately one-quarter of the bones in the body are in the feet. That means 33 joints per foot need to remain mobile for your body to move optimally.
For example, “The big toe plays a vital role in the body’s forward propulsion,” says Perry Nickelston, D.C., owner of stopchasingpain.com. “It needs to extend to 65 degrees.” Most people he’s examined are at only about 45 degrees, he says. “Or, you can’t propel your body with optimal hip extension, thoracic rotation, and glute max activation. Other muscles and joints must work harder to compensate, and the result is often fatigue, poor performance, pain, and injury.”
The ankle is included in the foot complex as well. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that restricted ankle mobility predisposed subjects to overuse injuries.
Finally, if you have flat feet, foot training is a must. Fallen arches cause the foot to roll inward toward the midline of the body, knocking joints out of alignment and setting you up for knee and hip pain.
3 Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet
If you’ve ever rolled your ankle, you know it doesn’t take much to injure your wheels. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to train your feet. You just need these moves.
1. Outward Roll (shown above, right)
What it does: Stretches the muscles on the bottom of the foot.
How to do it:
- Stand with feet staggered, slightly less than the length of your regular step.
- Keeping the heel of your front foot off the floor and both knees straight, gently roll your front foot outward onto the pinkie-toe side of your foot. Try to get the ball of your foot past your pinkie toe. It will feel like the kind of movement that could sprain your ankle—but it’s safe when done with control.
- Pause at the end range of motion for a moment so you feel a stretch in the foot, then roll it back so it’s flat on the floor again.
- Do 1 set of 5 slow reps on each foot.
2. Heel Circle
What it does: Mobilizes the ankle and the joints in the toes.
How to do it:
- Use the same stance as above, then roll your rear foot up onto your toes so they are folded under the foot and pointing behind you.
- Begin making big circles with your heel so that you roll and stretch your toes in different directions.
- Do 1 set of 5 slow reps in both directions.
3. Banded Squat (shown above, left)
What it does: Strengthens the arch of the foot.
How to do it:
- Stand with feet outside shoulder-width and parallel to each other. Slide the end of an exercise band (we like the Gray Cook Exercise Band, at performbetter.com) under the ball of one foot, then wrap it around the front of your opposite leg, above the knee.
- Stretch the band around the other leg and back down under the ball of the opposite foot. The band should now form an X.
- Push your knees apart, and squat as low as you can. Move slowly, and keep your weight on your heels and the balls of your feet.
- Do 3 to five 5, or as many as you can until the band slips out from one foot. Repeat throughout the day.
Mark Cheng is a faculty member of Fucntional Movement Systems and owns a sports medicine practice in Santa Monica, CA. drmarkchang.com
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