Foot strength. Let’s talk about it! In this post, I discuss why foot strength is critically important, the best ways to develop it, and whether bare feet have a place in warm ups and warm downs. Intrigued? Read on.
Your feet are incredible. Here’s why.
During sport, your body can encounter forces of up to 30 times your body weight through the feet. That feet can withstand this force and direct it appropriately through the body is a marvel of bio-engineering! With ropes, pulleys and stabilisers all working around complex articulations, it’s surprising how much goes on down there – yet how little attention feet receive, being typically the least trained part of the body (unless, of course, they’re injured or in pain).
Foot anatomy: the basics.
There are 20 intrinsic muscles in each foot, originating from one part of the foot and inserting into another. In addition, another 20 extrinsic muscles act on each foot, originating from higher up the leg and inserting into the foot.
It’s a complex arrangement, but essential for good mechanics and performance.
When your feet are weak, problems occur.
Weakness or dysfunction leads to poor joint alignment, which magnifies the effort required to perform simple tasks.
This makes you far less efficient when trying to perform at the highest level, which is a handicap no athlete wants or needs.
Strengthening the foot muscles is key to enabling your body to find control, stability and limit preventable injuries. By increasing foot strength, you’ll avoid being hampered by wonky mechanics, and maximise your performance.
But before strengthening the feet, it’s important to focus on mobility.
Your joints should be working in harmony, with no restrictions or adhesions. That’s why a podiatrist who provides foot mobilisation therapy is a great addition to your therapy team.
Next, condition your muscles.
Ensure your muscles are primed to improve by keeping them in good condition, with massage and stretching. As a basic measure, your warm-up regime should always incorporate lower leg and foot flexibility sets. (Want to know which stretches to include? Ask your podiatrist!)
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Congratulations! You’re ready to strengthen.
Although strengthening exercises prescribed for you are best discussed one-on-one with your sports podiatrist, here are three essential strengthening exercises every active person should be doing to keep feet performing at their best.
- Take a walk in bare feet on soft sand
- Even imagining this feels good, right? The extra effort required by walking through soft sand is fantastic for those forgotten little intrinsic muscles. If you don’t have access to soft sand, going bare foot on the grass is the next best thing as you warm up or cool down.
- Use your feet to pick things up
- Not just a neat party trick! While seated, practice picking a towel up off the ground with your toes. Make sure to spread your toes, grab the towel, and curl them to pick it up. It’s harder than you might think! Channel your inner primate.
- Rise onto your toes and lower slowly
- Make sure you’re in a neutral foot position (where the foot is neither rolled in or out). Feel the strength on the inside of your arch as you rise, and lower. Repeat.
The final word on foot strength
These tips may sound simple, but improving foot strength offers huge benefits.
Even though they’re way down there, don’t forget about your feet. They’re your springboard! Help them become supple, flexible and strong, and bound towards better performance today.