It’s not what you think. It’s not about a secret special amazing shoe. It’s the strength in your feet. As a dancer, strengthening my feet has been part of my fitness routine for as long as I can remember. When I pull my theraband out at the gym and wrap it around my foot, I always get a few looks. My strong feet and ankles give me better balance and form a firm basis for full body strength.
So many athletes and fitness enthusiasts workout all their major muscle groups (and some even work on their grip strength!) but don’t think to work on their feet. Every athletic movement requires your feet. Standing. Walking. Squatting. Lunging. All of these require them and if you’re starting with a weak base, all of your movements will suffer.
So will your body. Your body compensates for weak feet by transferring the load to your knees, ankles and even lower back. Your arches can fall, you can throw your legs out of alignment. This can set you up for injuries and problems down the line. And it is an easy fix.
Don’t believe me? Trust the science. A study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that strengthening your feet can lead to improvement in not just foot strength but jump heights and running speeds.
What can you do?
You can exercise them! I’ve gathered some of my favorite ways to strengthen feet. From the simplest to a full-on ballerina routine, these will help you strengthen your feet and improve your overall fitness.
Use your feet
Your yoga instructor isn’t telling you to push through your big toes for their health. It’s actually to help you activate the muscles in your feet during your practice. But yoga isn’t the only time you can do this. You can start pressing your feet into the ground whenever you stand. Also, practice lifting only your big toes. Then, practice spreading your toes. The stronger your feet become, the easier this will become.
Exercise like a ballerina
Dancers are meticulous about strengthening their feet. Have you ever wondered how they jump so often with fewer knee problems than basketball players despite wearing just slippers? It’s the feet – they use their foot strength to both propel them off the floor and to help their landings. YouTube is a treasure trove of videos such as this theraband instruction.
As well as this quick five-minute routine from a pro.
Ditch your shoes
There’s a reason for the barefoot running craze. Shoes keep your feet from activating all their muscles. Now, I’m not saying be a radical and never wear shoes again. But, go for walks on the beach without shoes. Do calf raises on a bosu sans footwear and feel the muscles in your feet activate. Your muscles will have to work to keep you balanced.
Up your game
Strengthening my feet has improved my balance and agility in ways I never would have imagined. It’s truly amazing how much impact they have on your overall fitness.
Do you have any favorite foot strengthening exercises? If you do, share them in the comments!
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.