Did you know the muscle groups in both of your feet make up 25 percent of your body's muscles? That's right! So if you ignore the muscles of your feet, it would be like eliminating upper body workouts from your repertoire. Your feet take a beating every day with normal activity so if you are active your feet have to do a lot more work. When the muscles of the feet are not functioning properly, it will affect your gait in walking and running. Foot problems lead to other orthopedic problems also such as knee pain and hip/low back pain. Think of your feet as the foundation to your "house". If your foundation is faulty, you will weaken your structure which ultimately could lead to injuries and/or chronic problems.
So what can you do to keep your feet healthy? It is important to treat the muscles of your feet just as you would the muscles of your legs or chest. They need to be strengthened and stretched on a regular basis. We think of shoes as a good thing, right? Actually, shoes can be similar to a cast on an arm. Muscles of a casted limb begin to atrophy (or get smaller) over time due to the lack of movement/use. The muscles of your feet are the same way. They get used to having the support of shoes around the clock. They don't have to think about moving or supporting the ankle or body so they begin to get "lazy". Now I'm not saying you should go barefoot all of the time. You still need to support your foundation and provide stability for the lower limbs during movement. However, it is a good idea to go barefoot (or wear minimalist footwear) every now and then. But before your start on that, it is important to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the feet. Here are some exercises and stretches you can do to help build your foundation.
- Toe Lifts
- Have you ever tried to lift one toe at a time? You might be surprised as to how difficult it can be. Try lifting your big toe first, without any other toes moving. Then move on to each subsequent toe and then reverse it back to the big toe. Keep practicing until you can master the single toe lift. Practice this daily as it will not only strengthen the smaller muscles of the foot but it will also help stretch the feet.
- Your toes are trapped in shoes all day. Sometimes, depending on the type of shoe, the toes have very little wiggle room. Take your shoes and socks off then practice spreading the toes out away from each other without lifting them off of the ground. Hold for a few seconds then repeat. If you feel like your toes/feet begin to cramp, that is an indication you need to perform this move more often.
- Help strengthen and stretch the bottom of your feet with toe grabs. Place a towel or small objects such as pebbles or marbles on the floor. Practice grabbing and picking up the small objects with your toes. If you are using a towel, grab the towel with your toes, then scrunch your toes up to drag that towel towards you.
- Practice making 20 circles with your feet both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Make the circles big so the whole foot moves at the ankle. Then point your foot away from you (as if you were stepping on a gas pedal in your car) and flex your foot towards your body. Do this about 20 times each foot. If that becomes too easy, grab an exercise band/tubing and repeat all of those movements.
Take care of your feet and you will have a strong foundation!!