Almost everyone I meet these days has some sort of a workout routine—even if that routine means leaving your gym bag by the door each night and regularly ignoring it the next day. But there’s one part of our body that nearly everyone leaves out of that exercise routine, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Since I’m a podiatrist in Houston, it probably won’t shock you to hear what that body part is, but I’ll spell it out for you anyway: it’s your feet!
Why Feet Need Strengthening, Too
Our feet are the support system for literally every type of movement that we make. So, yes, they are strengthened by our every movement: each time we walk, run or even go on tip-toe, our feet are going through weight-bearing exercises. But they still need some extra physical attention, as any weakness in our feet will lead to problems in other parts of your body. And, as it turns out, that fact is especially true when it comes to women’s feet.
Pregnant women put tons of extra pressure on their feet, due to the added weight of their growing fetus and due to the extra bodily fluid that accumulates during pregnancy. This can cause feet to swell or flatten out, which in turn also leads to widening.
Of course, shoe choice can cause major problems for women’s feet. Wearing high heels can weaken women’s ankles, and change the very shape of those feet—pushing on bones to form bunions, or causing your feet to clench up and leave you with hammer toes.
And the troubles don’t stop there. As women get older, their estrogen levels drop. That can often lead to weakening in your tendons, making way for heel pain and tendinitis. In short, all feet—especially women’s—take a major beating as we walk through life. That’s why they need extra strengthening: now let’s look at the best way to do that!
2 Foot Strengthening Exercises to Try Right Now
According to scientific research, your foot-strengthening workouts should focus on two main areas your ankles and your foot ‘core.’ Let’s take a closer look at both:
Especially for athletes, the ankle is one of the most frequently injured parts of the body; once you’ve had an ankle injury, you’re that much more susceptible to further injuries down the road. Even though the ankle is so vulnerable, it’s also responsible for holding up your whole body, so strengthening exercises are crucial.
One easy trick to strengthen your ankle: stand on one foot, with your eyes closed, and work hard to maintain your balance. Be sure to spend equal amounts of time on each side. Isometric exercises, where you press your shoe-clad foot inward then outward against a solid object (like the wall) will also help safely build up your strength.
Not sure what this is? You’re not alone! According to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it has been largely overlooked by sports doctors and therapists, and is extremely weak (or even dormant) in most people.
The core, as described in the study, is made up of 11 small, intrinsic muscles, located entirely within the foot. According to lead study author Dr. Patrick McKeon, you can’t really strengthen these tiny muscles, but you can ‘turn them on’ to promote better foot health and all-over stability. The exercise he and his colleagues recommend is called “foot doming:” it involves arching the foot to shorten it while keeping the toes and ball of the foot flat on the ground. As you get stronger, you progress from sitting to standing, standing on one leg, and eventually to squats and single-leg hops. Other exercises include spreading the toes as wide as possible, squeezing them together, pulling a towel toward you on the floor by curling your toes, and picking up a marble with your toes.
As you can see from these examples, being proactive about your foot health is crucial to avoiding injury. Responding to pain quickly, however, is just as important, so if you are experiencing any foot, toe or ankle problems, schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrew Schneider immediately.