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Foot Exercises for Healthier Feet

Walk barefoot in the sand.
Walk barefoot in the sand.

The human foot is an incredible piece of engineering. A single foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles tendons and ligaments. When you run, each foot can absorb the impact of three times your body weight. But for all our feet do for us, we do remarkably little for them.

Strengthening your feet can reduce injuries, improve balance and even help relieve back pain. In a 2015 paper from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers talked about how our feet have “core” muscles that are often ignored.

The movement and stability of the arch is controlled by intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. However, the intrinsic muscles are largely ignored by clinicians and researchers. As such, these muscles are seldom addressed in rehabilitation programmes.

To avoid problems and move better, researchers suggest we should start exercising those intrinsic or core muscles. We need to learn how feet are supposed to work and train them to, “...function as they are designed.”

The key is doing exercises that focus on the feet. Many foot exercises work ankles or shin muscles and do nothing for the foot core. That's why I've put together four exercises designed specifically for your feet. Perform each exercise at least 2-3 times a week for best results.

Start with Toe Yoga. Sit on a chair with both feet flat on the ground. First lift the big toe, without lifting the little ones. Hold the big toe up for 2-4 seconds, while the other toes stay grounded. Then do the opposite.

You want to make sure when you lift your big toe, it's moving independently of the other toes. The same is true when you move the rest of your toes together while keeping your big toe down.

Keep your foot neutral. Don't cave in the arch as you move.

Toe Yoga

The Short Foot or Foot Doming exercise is excellent at isolating core foot muscles. You start with your feet flat on the floor. Then you pull the balls of the toes toward your heel. That shortens the length of the foot and makes a dome shape out of your foot arch.

Finish the exercise by relaxing and letting your foot flatten back out. Over 4-6 weeks this can help reduce arch collapse and improve balance ability.

Foot Doming

The Marble Pickup is next. Put 20 marbles on the floor, in front of a chair, in two piles of ten. Put a cup in the middle. Then sit on that chair with both feet flat on the floor. Use your toes to pick the marbles up, one at a time and put them in the cup. Pick up 10 with one foot and 10 with the other.

Make sure the marbles aren't too far away, you need to keep your butt firmly on the chair. As you get better, you can increase the amount until you are picking up 20 marbles with each foot. The goal is to get your toes moving, reduce heel pain, reduce stiffness and increase general mobility in the feet.

Marble Pickup

The Towel Curl. Your heel remains in place. You pull the towel toward you by scooping it with your toes and arch. Use every toe together to scoop and pull the towel. Repeat the motion 5 times, then do the same with the other foot.

Towel Curl

Finish up with a balance exercise call the Pass Around. You stand on one foot while holding a light weight in the opposite hand. So if you're standing on your right foot, your left foot is lifted off the ground and the weight is in your left hand.

Now pass the weight around your body, switching hands as you move it in a circle. Go in one direction until you've circled yourself five times.

When you finish, switch legs and hands. Now reverse the weight, moving it around your body in a circle in the opposite direction. This helps train all those small muscles in your foot to make corrections while maintaining balance and stability.

Finally, spend more time in your bare feet. Not minimal shoes, not socks, but bare feet. Researchers found that balance and stability was significantly improved when people took off their socks and stood or walked in bare feet. The socks filter out important sensory input that we need to achieve better balance.

You only need to remain barefoot for short periods, 5-10 minutes a day is enough to see a change. Around your house is good. If you have a sandy beach or sand volleyball court, those are even better. Only walk barefoot where you can do it safely.

A word of caution, if you are suffering from diabetes or other conditions that reduce foot sensitivity, talk to a podiatrist first before walking barefoot.

The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:290. McKeon PO, Hertel J, Bramble D, et al

Click Link for Full Study: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/5/290

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