How to work out your feet! You may think to yourself, ‘why in the world would I wanna work out my feet?!’ Your feet are actually a complex body part that consist of 26 bones, the joints in between all of those bones, ligaments that connect those bones, 4 layers of intrinsic (contained within the foot) muscles, and several extrinsic (enter the foot from the lower leg) muscles. Your feet are responsible for providing a base which you can walk, jump, run, and play on. They provide crucial proprioceptive information which we use to avoid injuring ourselves while on our feet.
ln the age of footwear, we have lost much of the strength our ancestors feet once had. With hard, flat bottoms on our shoes, we do not get to utilize the muscles within our feet, which provide us with so much stability and neurological information. If you observe a person’s foot who does not wear footwear, you will see some key differences. Their toes will be splayed out and their feet will be very wide. This is due to the strengthening and hypertrophy of the muscles of the feet, making these particular feet very strong. But what about walking on asphalt and driving a car? We have set up our world so that walking without shoes isn’t always possible. So now we have to find a happy medium.
How do we get back the lost strength in our feet? Simple. Work them out like any other muscle in your body. Below I am going to list and explain some different ways to make sure your feet aren’t being left behind in the gym or on the playground.
1. Resistance exercises. This is where your foot strengthening journey should begin. If you have weak foot muscles, you need to start small and build up. The same way you would not go into the gym on your first time and try to squat 200 lbs, you would not start with barefoot running.
Spreading peanut butter is always one of the first rehab exercises doctors will prescribe. You simply place your foot fully on the ground and swipe back and forth keeping full contact with the ground. Move slowly and steadily. Repeat on both sides until fatigue. This exercise helps to strengthen the muscles that support the arches of your feet.
The towel pull is another classic foot exercise. Place a towel on the ground with the tips of your toes touching it. Slowly use your toes to pull the towel and scrunch it up underneath your feet. Repeat this exercise on both sides until your feet are fatigued.
2. Balance exercises. This type of exercise is very beneficial for strengthening proprioception. If you have sprained your ankles multiple times, I would highly suggest starting here. Balancing on one foot gives your body the neurological input to rediscover where you are and where your limits are to stay upright. Balance is something that most of us lose with age, but with anything else practice makes perfect!
My favorite balancing exercise is standing barefoot on one leg on an upside down Bosu Ball. Spread your toes and allow your feet to guide you. It is ok if you are not ‘good’ at it right away. Keep practicing… Once you can stand on one leg, graduate yourself to something harder. Bend at the waist while standing on one leg, bend at the waist and turn onto your side into half moon pose. Once you have mastered these, move on to one-legged pistol squats on the Bosu.
3. Barefoot running. This may seem like a fad, but there are real benefits to be gained from this trend. This is the same reason why Vibrams became so popular. When you run without shoes on, it forces your gait to change. You no longer land on your heels. This displaces the load onto your mid foot and forefoot and allows your toes to grip the ground as you push through. This change strengthens the muscles in between your toes, the muscles that control your toes and the muscles of the calf. Strengthening these muscles also helps to strengthen the arches of your feet. Take caution though, if this is something new you plan on trying you need to start slowly. Virgin skin will blister easily, causing a painful remainder of your run. Too much too soon can also cause cramping in weak muscles. Shin splints (when a muscle begins tearing away from the bone, most commonly the anterior tibialis muscle) are another possibility which are associated with tight calf muscles. As with anything new, start slowly and slowly build up.
My personal favorite is barefoot running on the soft sand at the beach. This not only strengthens my feet, but also my calves, thighs, butt and proprioception. A little goes a long way…
Your feet give you support and balance. They keep you steady and help prevent you from falling. Just like every other muscle of our bodies, we want our feet to be strong so that they can work optimally! No go work out your feet!
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