Exercise Your Toes, Strengthen Your Feet

AUDIO FILE: Exercise Your Toes

This blog post is an extension of my previous post which focused on taking clues from our shoes to give us an idea of our foot mechanics and how it affects our gait. This post will focus on the importance of foot health and how critical it is for optimum movement.

When was the last time you stretched your feet? Rolled a tennis ball under your foot? How about grasping marbles with your toes? I know, not the sexiest of exercises.

Feet are taken for granted; crammed into ill-fitting shoes, they pound miles and miles of pavement, providing sensory input of the world beneath us. Over time this neglect may lead to calluses, corns, hammertoes, bunions, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, shin splints, and even neuromas (pinched nerves). Many of these conditions are preventable by being attentive to signs of repetitive stress and making minor adjustments. When the foot is out of alignment, it can cause other parts of the body (knee, hip, low back) to compensate, causing pain in those parts of the body – a good motivation to give those hard-working feet dedicated care.

The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and over 7,000 nerve endings – truly a marvel!

Before I continue, I’d like to describe two actions of the gait cycle; Toe off and Dorsiflexion (pointing your toes towards your nose). They are essential actions in propelling forward movement. Let’s talk toe off; This action refers to the part of the gait cycle when the big toe pushes off the ground -supporting most of your body weight- the heel rises, and the foot swings forward through the air. Now dorsiflexion, for the swinging foot to clear the ground, it must dorsiflex; as the heel prepares to strike the ground, the same muscle that dorsiflexed (tibialis anterior) must now decelerate dorsiflexion – so the foot doesn’t slap the ground. What’s required here is adequate mobility to the ankle/foot joint and strength to the muscles supporting it. 

The foot is often ignored in training. For this reason, I created a foot health maintenance program to circumvent injuries. I want to share a few program exercises, organized sequentially and progressively – each movement optimizing the next. It consists of self-myofascial release (foam rolling), mobility, strength, and stability exercises. It’s thorough and easy to follow! Our feet are the pedestal on which our frame stands; give them dedicated care.

Our feet are the pedestal on which our frame stands on, give them dedicated care.

Before I get into the exercises, I’d like you to take notice of your swagger! How’s your stride? As your heel strikes the ground, how heavily is your foot hitting the ground? How strong is your toe-off? Is your foot caving in? Do you feel balanced? Do you often trip? Clues, clues, clues! Our body constantly gives us clues – we have to pay attention. The exercises I demonstrate are low loading and therapeutic. If you are experiencing chronic pain in your foot/feet, please see your doctor for a proper diagnosis before beginning this or any exercise routine. Click this link for a rundown of the anatomy of the foot.

Step 1: Self Myofascial Release using the foam roller and small ball; aims to address chronic tension and trigger pointsTriggerpoints.net has excellent information on common trigger points and their location; check them out! In the first video, I use a small foam roller for my calves and a softball for my foot. Finding a foam roller and small ball that will suit your sensitivity will optimize treatment; foam rollers come in various densities and textures, and there are a variety of dedicated fascial massage balls. However, a golf ball, lacrosse, or tennis ball works well for the foot area! Address the length and width of the calf muscles making sure to stop before you get to the back of your knee. Address tender areas by maintaining pressure over them for at least 30 seconds. You will feel a release of tension throughout the muscle. 

Sit on a chair while massaging foot to decrease intensity.

Step 2: Mobility and Active Stretching; aims to increase mobility through the foot and ankle joint. A few pointers; For the toes on the wall stretch, keep movements rhythmic and coordinate your breathing with the movements-1minute. For the towel pickup, be sure to spread your toes right before you grip the towel toward you; repeat 3xs. For the dorsum foot slide, actively but gently press the floor as you slide the foot in and bring it into dorsiflexion, repeat 5xs. These movements recruit the muscles that support the foot arch and exercise ankle/foot mobility. Step 1 is the prep work for Step 2.

Wear socks when sliding foot, sliders work nicely too or simply a paper plate will do!

Step 3: Strengthening the muscles that support the foot/ankle in all planes of motion. These exercises are low-load and therapeutic. A full range of motion should be used when performing two sets of 20 for each exercise. You can break it up into four sets of 10..

These are baseline exercises. The next step would be a progression to loaded strengthening and stability work. This takes it up the kinetic chain incorporating the knee and hip. This step is best customized. That’s why I don’t include it here if you have a specific condition and are looking for a personalized program, head over to my Contact page!

Stand Tall, Breathe Deep –
ACE/NASM Certified Trainer
NYS Licensed Massage Therapist


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