How to strengthen your feet: advice and tools to get you started

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Photo: AFX online

You may go to the gym to strengthen your chest, back, legs or core, but what about your feet?  Your feet end up being held hostage in a stinky pair of shoes, unable to move or breathe all day and then you expect them to hold you up while you walk, run or play sports.  They are pretty durable, but will eventually begin to break down, hurt and even deform if you don't give them a chance to work properly with the rest of your body.  Your feet are your body's suspension; they act as both shock absorbers and rigid levers to help propel you when walking and running.  Losing awareness of your feet leads to poor movement patterns, poor posture and inevitably pain.

For more detail read my previous posts:

Shoes: good support or coffins for your feet

Why feet hurt

Barefoot running vs barefoot lifestyle

Imagine you have a job that requires you to wear tight leather socks on your hands all day.  Now imagine the palm side of the sock has a firm plank on it so you can't flex your hand to properly grab anything, but you still have to use your hands all day.  What do you think would happen to your hands over time?  They would turn into deformed, weak clubs like most people's feet end up looking like.  You would lose the dexterity in your fingers while your forearms, wrists and shoulders would get all tight from compensating all day; this is what effectively happens to most peoples toes, ankles and hips from wearing stiff shoes all day, but your feet have much more of an impact on your posture than your hands ever would.

Four facts about your feet that are hard to argue with:

  1. You were not born with shoes on…evolution designed your feet to function barefoot
  2. Your feet's arches are designed to be held up by the muscular tension holding your foot bones together, not by external "arch supports" pushing them up from the bottom
  3. You likely wear shoes most of the time and walk mainly on very flat surfaces
  4. You are unlikely to stop wearing shoes, but would like to keep your feet warm, healthy, strong and protected

So you will probably agree that your feet would be happiest and strongest if you were barefoot all day walking around an uneven meadow, but practically that is not going to happen, so what do you do to keep your feet strong, living in reality?

I would suggest starting with the most simple things and progressing to the more advanced tips depending on how serious you are about getting your feet stronger.

Step 1:

  • Take your shoes off more often and start trying to move your feet and toes in every imaginable way.  Splay your toes, wave good bye, grab the ground, pick up a pencil, etc.

Step 2:

  • Wear a variety of different types of shoes throughout the week to keep your feet adaptable and consider buying a pair of minimalist shoes for walking and give your feet the chance to flex around/on an uneven surface
  • If you live near the ocean try going for a barefoot walk on the beach once a week

Step 3:

  • Have a closer look at your standing posture, because how you hold yourself in the mid back area will very much effect how you load weight on your feet

Step 4:

  • Try taping your feet as you see in the video below.  This will help you feel what it feels like to have really strong feet.  You feel lighter, your toes splay apart and you feel like your feet and butt are pushing your forward as you walk.

Step 5:

  • Learn how to lift your ankle while flexing your forefoot, the same muscular pattern that helps your foot grab the ground to aid with balance.

Step 6:

  • Learn that when you walk and run you should have a slight forward lean from your ankles.  This requires foot strength….

Step 7:

  • Learn how to use your foot to grab the ground when walking or balancing on one foot….a key ingredient to balance.

Step 8:Products to buy that will help create foot awareness and strength:

  • Foot wakers
  • The AFX: ankle foot maximizer
  • The AFX is an invention of two Vancouverites with a passion for biomechanics and rehab.  I met one of them, Matt Ferguson, a few years ago while I was on my journey trying to design and build a foot brace and minimalist shoe.  Matt and his partner Rick Hall have trudged through the whole journey of prototyping, financing, manufacturing, and marketing to get their foot strengthening product out there.  I have recently started using it and have to say it definitely gives your foot and ankle a good workout.  If you are rehabbing an ankle, battling with plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis and are committed to building strong feet and preventing future problems, the AFX should be in your tool kit.  They have some easy to follow protocols with YouTube videos to help you build strength and resilience in your feet and ankles.  If you really want strong feet, follow my steps 1-7 above and then get an AFX and start training your feet a few times a week.  Click here for information on how to order one.

Here is one of their YouTube videos so you can see the device in action

In the end, 'you are what you do repeatedly' and in order to make a lasting noticeable change you will need to address your movement mechanics and your footwear choices.  If you are starting with really weak feet you may need to start taping your feet as you transition into more minimalist shoes and or spend 4-6 weeks blasting away on the AFX first and then drop down to the flatter, less supportive shoes.  Once you have built a baseline, walking properly is the best way to keep your feet strong.  If your goal is to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes you should really look at the Vivo Barefoot Training Clinic resources.

If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer them.  Good luck and strong feet!

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