Most of us have very weak feet, and it really should be a priority. The way that the foot interacts with the ground affects how the entire body functions. If your foot placement is not biomechanically sound and your feet are not strong, you risk developing anything and everything from hip and knee pain to plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia under the foot).
The foot is complex; it has 33 joints and huge neurological potential. It is designed to manoeuvre and adapt to different terrains and communicate with the brain regarding whole-body balance and proprioception, which is the feedback loop between your body and brain that allows your brain to know where your body is in space.
Proprioception allows you to move with ease during athletic endeavours – think running on uneven surfaces or cutting side to side on a basketball court. It also keeps you from falling over when walking, helps you balance on the subway and even keeps you steady when manoeuvring a heavy box or squirming child.
The good news is, like most strength imbalances, weak feet are not inevitable. Try these exercises three times a week. All exercises should be done barefoot.
Triangle balance toe lifts
Start by standing on your right leg with your left leg behind you, with only your left toes touching the ground. Engage your right butt cheek and keep the right kneecap in line with your middle toes. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on your right foot between the ball of the big toe, the ball of the little toe and your heel. Keep your arch lifted.
Maintain this position as you lift your right toes up and down, leaving the ball of your foot on the floor. Repeat 15 times. Then switch sides. To make the exercise harder, lift your left foot up as you lift your right toes.
Spread your toes wide along the floor. Work to spread your toes equally; don't grip with your toes. Close them again. Repeat 10 times.
Start by standing. Place your right heel on the ground in front of you. Keep the weight on your heel even side to side. Don't roll your foot in or out. Flex through your toes so the next portion of your body to hit the floor is the ball of your big toe. As you transition to balancing on your right toes, lift your left foot off of the floor. Balance for a moment, then repeat by placing your left heel on the floor in front of you with control. Repeat 10 times.
Two final thoughts: When you are at the gym, think about the position of your feet doing every exercise. For example, when doing a lunge, make sure the weight in your front foot is evenly distributed through the ball of your big toe, the ball of your little toe and your heel.
Also, remember that the more stress you put on your feet in training, the stronger your feet need to be to avoid injury. So, if you progress from walking to running, or go back to any sport after an off-season, don't forget to appropriately strengthen your feet.