How many of you have ever thought about training your feet?

The thought did not even cross my mind until I ran myself into a case of plantar fasciitis. I wanted to work my way back out of it and everyone else I knew that had foot problems seemed to just accept the fact that they will require orthotics or deal with pain for the rest of their lives. I decided to do some research and troubleshooting.

Most people have weak feet whether they know it or not and many even have issues stemming from those weak feet (plantar fasciitis, etc.). There are two main causes for this. First, modern footwear with its gigantic cushion soles and arch support makes it so your feet don’t have to be strong. Second, most traditional leg exercises in the gym are performed flat footed (squats, deadlifts, leg press, leg extensions, ham curls).

The problem with weak feet incapable of supporting themselves is they continue to deteriorate and you need more and more support from outside sources. Eventually you end up having to wear these thick orthotics just to not be in pain. Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem instead of slapping bigger and bigger bandaids on it?

You can strengthen your feet through training, however even regular gym goers often neglect them while usually opting to perform flat footed exercises to enhance the more noticeable muscles.

Here are two options to consider if you want to save/enhance your feet.

  • Buy a pair of minimalist/barefoot shoes
  • Start incorporating exercises that target your feet

Barefoot shoes generally have minimal cushion and zero drop from the heel. This forces you to walk how the body was designed to (with a mid sole strike). The zero drop will also improve potential tightness in your calves caused by the massive heel cushions of regular footwear (from constantly being in a shortened position). Lastly, without all the unnecessary protection and slim fit, you’ll be able to spread and use your toes again, which is a crucial part of healthy feet (no bunions).

I should mention that the switch should be done fairly slowly to give your feet time to adapt. If you switch shoes and hop right into running (like I stubbornly did) you could potentially find yourself with the issues you were trying to avoid. Take it slow, gradually increase the distance traveled and ensure you are performing exercises to strengthen your feet as well.

The sled is a great place to start. As you push a sled, drive your big toe into the ground each step. This will strengthen and stretch the feet in a very low impact way (very safe). Even doing this once per week can yield tremendous results. I sledded myself out of plantar fasciitis over the course of a few months. Calf raises (another notoriously neglected area) also help to strengthen your feet as you press through your big toe each rep. Anything that moves and challenges your feet should do.

Although the feet aren’t flashy, you do need them to walk and do the most basic human movements, so take care of them. They are designed to be resilient, so do not fear walking barefoot, after all they worked fine for many years before shoes came along. Worst case scenario, you can dunk them in some icy water and get back to the sled.

Interested in strengthening your feet through personal training? Reach out here