Why do we ignore strength exercises for our feet when each foot contains more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments?
The human foot is an anatomical miracle, able to support hundreds of pounds with an arch that provides energy return when we walk and run. With hundreds of individual “pieces,” it’s no small feat to run healthy without foot injuries.
Just think about it: your foot is the first part of your body that touches the ground as you run. It absorbs shock, helps support your body (even when the impact forces of running can be two to FIVE times your body weight), and helps you run more efficiently.
But most of us don’t do any foot exercises.
We’ll crush our gym workouts and consistently do our core work. But when it comes to foot strength, we ignore that piece of our training. It’s no wonder foot injuries like plantar fasciitis are so common (the term was searched for over 300,000 times in Google just last month!).
With the right foot exercises, you’ll get stronger feet and can prevent a host of injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, peroneal tendonitis, and Achilles tendinopathy.
How to Get Stronger Feet with No Foot Exercises
You don’t necessarily need ANY specific foot exercises if you don’t have a history of foot injuries. You may just have great biomechanics and good running form that don’t predispose you to any problems.
Even though I have very low arches and I pronate excessively, I rarely have any injuries of the foot or lower leg. In fact, I’ve only been injured once in the last 5+ years.
But I still strengthen my feet in a few basic ways as a form of maintenance or insurance against foot injuries:
Barefoot strides: running strides barefoot on your lawn, artificial turf, or a clear grass field can help strengthen the foot and lower leg musculature. Strides are a nice thing to do barefoot because they’re quick and don’t require you to run barefoot for an extended period of time without shoes. For that reason, they’re actually safer than running slower for a longer time.
If you haven’t done them before, start with just two barefoot strides and progress to 4-6 over the course of 2-3 weeks. Then you can add another session per week.
Minimalist shoes: flexible, light, low-drop shoes require your feet and lower legs to work harder. Instead of the shoes absorbing the impact of running, you have to do the work.
For that reason, they’re both effective at making you stronger but also a higher risk for injuries. Proceed with caution! But you can also wear minimalist casual shoes like flip flops or Sperry Top Siders (my personal favorite).
But if you always seem to get some type of foot injury, you’ll want to perform an actual strength routine for your feet, ankles, and lower legs that can help you stay healthy for longer.
Making Foot Exercises Easy: Introducing AFX
Over the last few weeks I’ve been testing the Ankle Foot Maximizer, a simple tool that makes foot exercises much easier to perform.
The problem with most exercises is that there’s no resistance. Even with resistance bands, your foot always slips out. When I had plantar fasciitis in 2004 this was my biggest frustration with the rehabilitation process.
By using a support that locks your foot into place, the AFX solves this problem. Check out this video:
Since the AFX is used by pro athletes and supported by PhD’s and elite coaches, I had to give it a try. I’ve found it very helpful in strengthening the foot as I’ve been transitioning to less supportive running shoes.
There are five exercise movements that the AFX makes simpler:
- Plantar Flexion: flexing the foot and toes downward toward the sole
- Dorsiflexion: flexing the foot and toes upward toward the shin
- Toe Flexion: “Scrunching” the toes down toward the forefoot
- Ankle Inversion: bending the ankle inward, toward your midline
- Ankle Eversion: bending the ankle outward, away from your body
By using the boot and support straps, my foot never slipped while doing any of the exercises (a far cry from trying the same routine with just a Thera-Band). I also have fewer niggles and minor soreness from running in low-drop shoes that I normally experience. Usually when I start running more than 15-20 miles per week in less supportive shoes, I have to be more careful, but I feel stronger than ever now.
The most important aspect of the Ankle Foot Maximizer (and with any piece of strength equipment) is that it focuses on strengthening your underlying weaknesses instead of just masking the symptoms.
Which Runners Would Benefit From the AFX?
Not every runner needs a piece of exercise equipment specific to the feet and lower legs. If you have little or no history of injuries to the foot, Achilles, calf, or shins then you can use the simple strengthening suggestions I mentioned before.
But if you do struggle with foot injuries, you might need more focused exercises like the AFX can provide to increase your strength and injury resilience.
Runners who wear custom orthotics – or whose doctors are currently recommending them – likely need more foot strength. Orthotics (with a price tag often in the hundreds of dollars!) are a type of crutch that usually doesn’t address the root problem a runner is experiencing.
After spending years in constrictive, rigid shoes with high heels, many of us are simply not ready to start running in neutral shoes. Just like we do strength exercises for our legs and core, we need the same for our feet instead of more and more support.
Years ago I helped Lydia, a mom of 4, strengthen her feet and avoid foot injuries with a similar program. And if I had an AFX then, I’d certainly use it with her!
New runners (like Lydia) without a strong background in sports could also benefit enormously from using a product like AFX. These runners usually need more strength in every area: feet, lower legs, glutes, hamstrings, abs, and even the lower back.
Before attempting a longer race like the half marathon or marathon, it’s always advised to build your “foundation,” or the supporting components to your running fitness. A large part of this fitness is your structural, or muscular, strength.
A Special Deal For You
After countless hours of negotiation in smoke-filled rooms, I’ve hard-balled the AFX team to give you a discount if you decide to purchase the product within the next week.
Actually, they were super nice and agreed immediately. Now you know the type of thrill I love…
Anyway, just click here to visit the AFX website and enter the code StrengthRunning (case sensitive) at checkout and you’ll get 10% off. Easy peasy.
The discount is valid until next Thursday, 8/14 at midnight so don’t wait. And if you have any specific AFX questions, you can ask them on Twitter here.
Here’s to healthy, strong feet!