As Powerlifters and Weightlifters, we put our feet through an awful lot of stress. Squatting, Deadlifting, Cleans, Jerks, Snatches, they all demand so much from our feet as our only connection to the floor.
Over time, this is going to take its toll, so in this article, we’ll look at a few exercises you can use to keep your feet healthy and strong to ultimately keep you lifting for many years to come!
What Causes Our Feet to Lose Strength?
Our feet, much like any other part of our body, are loaded with a myriad of muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments and if we don’t regularly use them, they will atrophy just like any other muscle.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles don’t really require us to have particularly strong feet. We wear shoes, which are designed with comfort and support in mind, which protect our feet from the ground and many of us sit at a desk all day, further exacerbating this inactivity within our feet.
Over time, our feet aren’t exposed to the stresses they need to build strength and eventually all those muscles switch off. Our bodies are incredibly efficient machines, if we don’t use certain muscles, they won’t waste valuable energy to maintain them, that energy will be used somewhere it’s actually required.
But luckily, we can switch those muscles back on and it won’t take much time either!
All the more reason to start strengthening your feet today!
Test Your Foot Strength!
A simple test you can do to see what sort of condition your feet are in is to alternate raising your big toe and the rest of your toes. It also has the added benefit of being a good strengthening exercise too!
Stand or sit with your foot planted flat on the floor (I would recommend sitting at first and as you progress, you can move to standing). Now try to lift your big toe while keeping the rest of your toes on the ground, if you can’t do it, no sweat, the more you try the better you’ll get.
Aim to hold your big toe up for about 5 seconds. Now just switch, bring your big toe down and raise the rest of your toes, hold for 5 seconds, and release.
You can repeat this as many times as you like, I’d recommend around 8-12 repetitions, and don’t forget your other foot!
So how did you do?
If you weren’t able to do it, its probably a sign that your muscles could use a little attention and probably haven’t done much for a while, don’t be discouraged though, keep at it and expect to see rapid improvements very quickly! In fact, you should already notice a difference even after this first session!
It may seem overly simple, but foot strengthening doesn’t need to be difficult! We lost the ability to use our feet correctly simply because we never use them! How do we solve that? We use them again!
Walking around barefoot is easily one of the best methods we can utilize to gain back our foot strength. We no longer have the support and stability that shoes often provide us, so our bodies are forced to rely on all the tiny musculature within our feet for balance and support.
The added bonus here is that we don’t need to set aside some time to do this, just go about your everyday life but don’t wear your shoes.
If you’re going out in public, you may need to reconsider this but luckily I’ve got you covered! Check out the Vibram Five Fingers, a shoe with foot strengthening in mind. Obviously, they look a bit ridiculous but if you’re serious about your feet, they’re worth considering!
Aim to walk barefoot as much as you can comfortably tolerate, walk on grass, carpet, laminate, stone, go up and down stairs, anything and everything to get your feet used to a variety of different surfaces and stimuli.
If you’re not used to barefoot walking you may want to limit this to about 5 minutes at a time and build from there. Remember and always listen to your body, if you start feeling pain, stop, rest, and try again later.
If you want to take it a step further (no pun intended) you can try toe and heel walking too. This is exactly as the name suggests, just walk on your toes or your heels now and again. If balance is an issue, use a wall or counter to lean against. Even just standing still and alternating from your toe to your heel can be hugely beneficial.
And that’s all there is to it, just take your shoes off and go about your day. Put your feet through their paces on a variety of different surfaces and conditions and you’ll see a marked difference pretty quickly!
Release That Fascia!
The fascia is a complex weave of collagen fibers that sit under your skin and cover almost every inch of your body. It surrounds your muscles, bones, pretty much everything and one of its main functions are to keep all your muscles separated and able to move freely and independently of each other.
Fascia plays a key roll in our overall foot health and is a big reason why, if not maintained properly, our feet can lock up and lose their strength.
Many experts believe that, if inactive, the fascia can stiffen up and glue together, sticking our musculature together and preventing that free movement that we’re aiming for. If you have tried the toe raise exercise at the start of this article and couldn’t move your big toe independently of your other toes, this is a big reason why
So what can we do to release that fascia? One of the easiest things we can do is to simply massage it. Take your foot in both hands, thumbs over the top, and fingers wrapped under the base of your feet, from here apply gentle, yet firm pressure through your fingertips.
Work in circular motions, side to side, up and down, the key is to take your time, go slow, and just work your entire foot. Remember, this should never hurt, if it does, you’re likely applying way too much pressure or going too fast.
Is the base of your foot feeling a lot more open now? Great! Now using your thumbs, do the same to the top of the foot.
Another method you can use is to roll your foot out with a lacrosse ball, or any other ball that is made from a stiff material.
Place the ball on the ground and place your foot on top of it (you may want to be sitting for this one as it can be quite intense) Now just roll the ball around with your foot, roll it forwards and backward, side to side, in circular motions.
Try to get into every area you can and you should notice a big difference, this will do wonders for your arches especially!
As a bonus exercise, try and pick up the ball using only your foot, this one is really challenging!
Spread Your Toes!
Toe spreading, as the name suggests, is the act of spreading your toes laterally away from each other. This is a great exercise to fire up your feet and is something that I’ve found hugely beneficial for my Squat performance.
Place your foot flat on the ground, sit if you need to but standing works too, and try to spread your toes as wide as they will go. If it’s your first time trying this you can use your hands to help manually spread them until you regain the ability to do it without manual intervention.
Hold your toes in this spread position for about 5 seconds then release. Now do the opposite and squeeze your toes together, hold for 5 seconds, and release. Repeat this 8-12 times on each foot to really build up the intrinsic muscles.
Another good exercise for opening up your toes is a simple manual spread. Take your foot in your hand and cross it over your other leg. Now take your fingers and try to interlace them between your toes (this will feel very weird at first but as long as you’re not in pain, just go with it).
Now with your fingers and toes interlaced, just rotate your hand at your wrist, you can start with a small rotation and build up from there.
Eventually, you should be able to rotate your entire foot and ankle and get the added benefits of ankle and wrist strengthening too!
Work each foot by rotating clockwise for 8-12 repetitions followed by 8-12 counter-clockwise repetitions.
If you’re struggling to get your fingers between your toes at all, you could also consider buying a toe spacer, which will be a little thinner and should allow you to work your way up to your fingers.
Toe Curls & Extensions
The final exercise I’m going to recommend is yet another very easy one, and its simply to curl and extend your toes!
In a seated position, place your heel on the ground with the rest of your foot in the air. Now curl your toes up as tight as you can and hold for around 5 seconds, release and then extend your toes up towards the ceiling, hold for 5, and release. And that’s it! Easy, right? Yet it’s so effective at regaining the strength and mobility within your feet!
So there we have it, I’ve shown you a few exercises you can start doing today which will provide a significant improvement to your overall foot health. None of which are particularly difficult or time-consuming and only a couple requires anything other than your own body.
You can choose to do as many or as little of these, as often as you like, even just once a week should be enough to recover your feet. If nothing else, I would absolutely recommend spending more time just going barefoot and you’ll be well on your way to maintaining good foot health for the majority of your adult life.
Give them a try and I guarantee you will notice a massive difference in your feet, which should hopefully translate into improvements in your training too!
If you want to take your training a step further, you can also compliment your foot exercises with a suite of ankle strengthening exercises.