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Why You Should Strengthen Foot Muscles

Written By Jayme Pantekoek | Published March 12th 2022


 

Why You Should Train Your Feet

An ideal strength training program is designed with as many aspects of your sport in mind as possible. One training need that is incredibly important but often overlooked is the need to strengthen foot muscles.


Why is it so important to strengthen foot muscles? In this post, we’ll look at what makes your feet such important parts of your athletic performance, and why you should strengthen your foot muscles as part of your training program.


Movement Starts with the Foot

Most of the time, your feet are your only real connection to the ground. Think about what it looks like when you play your sport. How many movements do you make that don’t start with your foot? An athlete’s feet are where all of their movement and energy transfer is created from—whether it’s sprinting, jumping, changing direction, throwing, or something else.


Even swimmers use their feet to start their race off the blocks and turn on the walls. Plus, the mobility of their feet and ankles is important while kicking through the water.

The stronger, more resilient, and more flexible our feet are, the more effective those movements are going to be for us, ultimately making us faster, stronger, and able to jump higher.


Balance

You simply cannot balance without your feet and toes.

Obviously, on flat surfaces, your feet are what keep you upright and what propel you when standing, walking, or running.


This is even more important if your athletic performance relies on you being effective on uneven surfaces. Things like bumpy terrains (imagine a trail runner), balance beams (think gymnasts), rock climbing, and more all require an added level of balance from feet that need to be trained just like any other movement and muscle group.


You have 26 bones in your foot alone that help stabilize and balance you on flat and uneven surfaces. And on uneven surfaces, your foot contorts to the object to fill space and create the flat surface it needs to balance.


Whether your goal is to walk across a narrow beam or simply stay on your toes without falling while shuffling, it’s important to train feet and strengthen foot muscles to improve your balance.


Proprioception

Proprioception is a really fancy word that means “your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location.”

In other words, your foot is the first line of communication to the rest of your body about things like a misstep, an added incline or decline in the surface you’re on, or if you’re about to fall off balance or slip.


Your foot is the one that tells you this information so the rest of your body can react.

If your foot slips to the side, your torso naturally shifts, and your arms flare out to offset yourself until you can regain your footing again.


If you are barefoot, which we recommend most of the time when training, your foot can give you a lot of information like if the surface is wet, cold, hot, hard, or soft. This information helps your body strategize how to get the most out of accelerations, cutting, and jumping.


If your foot is unable to into consideration the type of surface you are playing on, you’re more likely to struggle with both balance and the movements you hope to perform well—another reason to train feet. This foot-to-body communication is another important reason to strengthen foot muscles.


Up The Chain

Hips get most of the credit when coaches talk about power in an athlete. And, they play an important role in the production of force from rotational power to jumping and acceleration. But, a lot of that power can be lost if the foot stability on the ground isn’t optimal.

This is the chain reaction of powerful movements.


Take a single-leg jump for example. When you go for a layup in basketball or a full speed running jump, the foot really makes a difference in whether you can reach your peak height or have accuracy in the air.


If when you plant your foot for takeoff and the foot cannot stabilize and rotates or angles toward the middle of your body, the knee must also fall in to accommodate the shift. Your hip will then need to make an accommodation as well. If the internal rotation is too great, the hip will not fire because this would lead to further collapse of the structure.

Your body knows this could lead to injury.


Even with a small internal rotation of the foot, you will still have to accommodate from the hip, causing them to act as stabilizers rather than power generators.

If your foot is able to stabilize, the knee will be in a secured position, and you can fire the big muscles of the hips appropriately. This will allow you will be able to maximize your height in that jump.


So, when we strengthen foot muscles and train this foot stability, we’re more likely to maximize our power potential.


Time on the Ground

“One of the things I had never thought about when training was how important my feet are to getting me off the ground quickly. When I’m playing matchup defense in a game, changing direction and shuffling are both things I have to do constantly. And the last thing I want is to be caught flat footed or to get sunk when my opponent goes to the end zone.Jayme taught me to keep my toes up for things like when I land on a lateral jump, or when I plant to go the other direction in a sprint. If I keep my toes up, my foot is already loaded on the landing. This allows me to not have to reload my foot again before taking off the other way, and it helps me generate more power on the push off immediately.This may seem like a minor detail, but saving myself split seconds many times over the course of a 48-minute game could be the difference between earning three blocks for my team or not.”

— Brandon Matis, Professional Ultimate Frisbee Player for the Minnesota Wind Chill


Training Your Foot

Training your foot can be as simple as taking your shoes off and interacting with the ground while you work out. This is an effective strategy to strengthen foot muscles in and of itself.

Your foot has over 20 muscles that can be trained.


The biggest movement for athletes to concentrate on is how they set up their transverse arch—also known as the ball of your foot.


There are three arches in your foot:

  • Big toe to heel

  • Pinky toe to heel

  • Transverse arch or the ball

The balls make up the base joint in the big toe, pinky toe, and all toes in between.

In training, athletes should concentrate on pushing the base/ball of the big toe down into the ground, then the base of the pinky toe should push out and down.


Brandon eluded to this earlier. This tightens the muscles of the transverse, creating a more stable surface to push from. Creating that tension and mobilizing the ankle in a calf raise, for example, can help dramatically on the strength of the foot position and transitioning energy up the chain.

As with all movement, we’re not likely going to be able to think about these things when we’re in the middle of our sport or athletic performance. Training this allows you to build muscle memory so that you’re naturally doing this when you play or perform.


Deficiencies

You may need to take it a step further if there is any deficiency in the movement of your foot, though. If you have a fallen arch, it’s critical to strengthen foot muscles and lift your arch. Stabilizing that position so further collapse does not happen is necessary.


If there is a big deficiency in the foot or toes, a strategy of breaking the foot down joint by joint and strengthening the muscles would be best. This can be done by moving the deficient toe on a smooth surface like a wooden floor and using a towel in between to help it slide better.


Repetition under this small tension is a great way to get better communication to the foot and to strengthen foot muscles in the right patterns.

Many people are quick to fix foot concerns with things like arch support, but many issues can be fixed and avoided by strengthening foot muscles.


 

Conclusions


Your foot has 20 trainable muscles and 26 bones that help with balance, communication, power, and more. If you’re not building foot training into your everyday training routine, you’re more likely to become injured (in the foot or elsewhere), limit your balance, cause yourself to get flat-footed in sports, and minimize your potential power output.


Start by training barefoot the next time you get to the gym, and build from there once it becomes comfortable. Even that can go a long way to maximizing your athletic performance.


FAST Athletics encourages our athletes to train barefoot for these reasons—a testament to how we consider every component of athletic performance. If you’d like a tailored training program that will help you or your athlete improve, reach out to us today.






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