Foot Gains?

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

If you have ever been in to see me, you know that I am a huge proponent of foot strength. I

have found many positive benefits of increasing foot strength for runners and triathletes with

regard to both performance and injury prevention.


The research would tend to agree with this belief about foot strength as well! Your foot has two

different categories of muscle: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic muscles are the ones that start in

your lower leg and cross the ankle to attach into the foot. Intrinsic muscles are the ones that

live in the foot and are responsible for maintaining your arch and foot stability. In a study by

Cheung et al published in 2016, researchers discovered that intrinsic foot muscle volume was

decreased among those suffering from plantar fasciitis.(1) Since it has also been shown that

muscle volume is directly related to strength, we can assume that among those participants

who had reduced foot muscle volume, they also had reduced muscle strength. So, it looks like

weak feet are at least correlated with plantar fasciitis. You can never prove causation from

correlation, but we can safely assume that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for your feet to be

stronger!


Furthermore, researchers have proposed a new model for foot muscle function – comparing it

to your core.(2) We know that core strength may have something to do with low back pain and

your overall function, and these researchers began to investigate how foot strength can look

much like core strength. What does this mean for you? Well, it means that strengthening your

foot intrinsics may just contribute to increased foot strength and therefore improved function.

But how do we strengthen our feet to improve function and hopefully decrease our injury risk?

Well, we need to understand how our foot muscles work, first. Let’s look at the following

photo:





As you can see, there are many different layers and types of foot muscles. How could we

possibly hope to strengthen each of them? Well, there’s good news! We don’t have to worry

about strengthening each of these individually because they all work together in a healthy foot.

So, if we strengthen one, we strengthen them all. But what exercises should we use? Let’s look

at two specific exercises that can help you.





In this exercise, we are working on something called the “short foot.” What this means is that

you are basically attempting to increase your arch height and bring your big toe closer to your

heel. Imagine that you are trying to create a little dome with your arch. You will start doing this

exercise sitting down, then progress to standing on two feet and then progress to standing on

one foot. This exercise has been shown to help strengthen your foot intrinsic muscles quite

well.(2)





For this next exercise, called toe yoga, we are working on dissociation and coordination of your

foot musculature. I often use this as a test for patients to see how well they are able to utilize

their toe muscles separately. This is a challenging exercise and you may not be able to do it at

first. Trust me, it will get better! Your goal is to keep your foot flat on the floor, but raise your

big toe and little toes separately, and in an alternating fashion. Once again, you will start this

exercise while sitting, then progress to standing on two feet and then progress to standing on

one foot.


One final thing I would like to suggest is to perform some of your usual workouts barefoot. This

may sound crazy, but by not wearing shoes you will actually improve the activation of your foot

musculature. I often refer to shoes as little foot crutches because whenever you are in a shoe,

you are using less of your own power. Shoes are wonderful and give us superb support – but

they can quickly become a limiting factor if we don’t take some time out of them. In fact, I often

work out in the gym in just my socks. There are also little footie socks you can purchase for

more durability in the gym. If you are working out at home and know the sanitary condition of

your floors, it is actually better for you to wear nothing at all on your feet, since this will

improve muscle function even further.(3) But, I would never recommend this in a public setting

due to risk of infection.


To summarize, we can all use a little more foot strength in our lives. This may help prevent

injury and can certainly improve your function!


Have any questions about your little piggies? Reach out to me today at ryan@precisionpt.org.

Keep running!


Ryan


1. Cheung, R. T. H., Sze, L. K. Y., Mok, N. W., & Ng, G. Y. F. (2016). Intrinsic foot muscle volume in

experienced runners with and without chronic plantar fasciitis. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 19(9), 713-715.

2. McKeon, P. O., Hertel, J., Bramble, D., & Davis, I. (2015). The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function. Br J Sports Med, 49(5), 290-290.

3. Shinohara, J., & Gribble, P. (2009). Five-toed socks decrease static postural control among healthy individuals as measured with time-to-boundary analysis. In 2009 American Society of Biomechanics Annual Meeting. State College, PA.


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