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
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
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
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.