Foot strength, and toe and ankle mobility, are crucial for a healthy kinetic chain. Runners, find out how to keep your feet and toes happy and healthy.
Riddle me this: what’s the one body part that consistently gets the head-tilt-of-disgust reaction? I’ll give you a hint: it’s arguably one of the most important parts of a runners’ body.
If you guessed feet (or toes!), you’re right. Feet and toes are an important piece of the running machine. They’re responsible for forward locomotion and propulsion. They also absorb the force of every step we take — running or walking. Feet are one of the most important parts of the kinetic chain when it comes to running. Sadly, our feet are often neglected and overlooked until it’s too late.
The Importance of Foot Strength for Runners
When you hear “strength training” you might think of weights, or lunges and squats. Maybe you even think of burpees. Rarely do we equate strength training with feet and toes. But if we did, think of all the ailments and injuries we could fix or avoid:
- achilles tendinitis
- plantar fasciitis
- stress fractures
- flat feet
If you’ve ever suffered any of these foot-related misfortunes, you’ll know they aren’t fun. And if you haven’t experienced them, lucky you! Thankfully there are some really easy exercises for foot strength to help avoid injury and discomfort.
Foot Strength and Ankle Stability Exercises
1. Be barefoot as much as possible.
By shedding shoes and socks, your feet will be able to do what they do best — adapt to the terrain and surroundings underneath them. To get an in-depth understanding of why you should be barefoot, check out my post about running barefoot. And if you haven’t read Born to Run yet, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
But if you don’t read my post or get the book, just know that being barefoot will allow you to strengthen your toes, feet, and ankles in a way you won’t be able to with shod feet.
2. Do toes pose.
Toes pose is by and large my all-time favorite stretch for feet. I encourage all my runners to do toes pose and to do it often. It is particularly useful for those suffering from plantar fasciitis. To do toes pose, sit on your knees on the floor. Tuck your toes under your feet and sit back on your heels. You will feel a pulling sensation on the bottoms of your feet. It may feel uncomfortable, especially when you’re just beginning to stretch and strengthen your feet. Hold this position for about 30 seconds or so. Lean back on the tops of your feet afterward. If it hurts too much and is causing pain, rise up off your heels.
3. And toe yoga.
Toe yoga is a challenge if you’re not too nimble and flexible with your toes. Toe yoga will help strengthen your entire foot, including your arch. You can do each foot one at a time or you can do both feet together for this exercise. To do basic toe yoga, first raise your big toes, keeping your remaining toes flat on the ground. Relax your big toes. Next, keeping your big toes on the ground, raise the four remaining toes. Relax your toes. Repeat this exercise 3-4 times in a row.
For even more advanced toe yoga, check out this video. It’s great and there are some really challenging moves!
4. Write the ABCs.
Another favorite of mine is to write the ABCs in the air with the toes. First, write the ABCs in capital letters. After you complete that exercise with one foot, switch feet. Next is to write the ABCs in lowercase letters with both feet. This should fatigue your feet but the more you do it the easier it will become. ABC writing is great for overall ankle stability and foot strength.
5. Play the pen-penny game.
Pen penny is a fun little exercise using a pen and a penny. It strengthens the arches by engaging the foot muscles. To do this exercise, you’ll stand on a smooth surface like a tile or wood floor. Place a penny under your big toe and a pen under your arch, just barely to the middle of your foot. Next, curl the big toe back and lift your arch up off the pen. Repeat this action.
I realize that may sound a little confusing if you’ve never done this exercise before. For clearer directions and a visual on how to do this, check out this really great video. If you have foot pain, fallen arches, or even lower back issues, I highly recommend doing the pen-penny exercise.
The human foot is a complex part of the kinetic chain. Unfortunately feet are often overlooked but they’re an extremely important piece of the running puzzle. I encourage you to incorporate these exercises into your strength and conditioning routines. By focusing on foot strength, stability, and health, and truly working on strengthening our bodies from the ground up, we’ll be able to run better, faster, and stronger — and with a little less injury, too.
Do you take care to stretch and strengthen your feet?
What’s your favorite foot-strengthening exercise?
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