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5 Easy Exercises to Build Strong Feet and Prevent Running Injuries

"You want me to WHAT?"

"Jump! I want you to jump like this..."

*I proceed to demonstrate*


"You do know I run, right? I'm training for Boston, not long jump."


She might as well have said, "I don't do jumps. So stop asking"


I asked again anyway.

And she got the hang of it.
But it got me thinking: us runners really don't like to jump.

Which is ironic considering we jump-fall onto one foot, over and over and over.....


Realizing this then...

and re-realizing it now, only convinces me more that we as runners, need better foot strengthening exercises.


Because I know calf raises are a classic.

and soleus raises are the second hot and trendy exercise.


And while strong calves ARE important....

that's the key right there.

Those exercises, while they do engage foot exercises, are truly baised towards building your calf muscles, not foot muscles.


And unfortunately, a lot of runners assume that stronger feet with automatically come with higher mileage.


(That's like assuming the more miles you put on your car, the more likely your engine will magically turn into a V8. I wish...)


Just like you have to actually perform the engine swap to gain more horsepower, you have to take the time and put in the reps to build stronger feet which, proven by rescent research, to result in faster paces, decreased risk of injury, and better tolerance to longer distances.


Plus...using the exercises I'm about to show you (for FREE), is infinitely cheaper than buying a new engine (labor not included for the swap).


Let me show you 5 simple exercises to build strong feet and help prevent running injuries, especially the ones that creep up during the winter months and the first speed sessions of the year.


5 Exercises to Build Strong Feet and Prevent Running Injuires

Circuit:

3 sets total // time and rep based with body weight


Toe Yoga: Big Toe DOWN, remaining toes UP

  • x10 ea side

In-Line Lunge

  • x10 ea R foot in front // x10 L foot in front

  • (this is the one exercise you only have need 1-2 sets of)

Bear Crawl Forward & Backward

  • 5 yards forward/5 yards backwards

Curtsey Lunge with Sliders (with upper body rotation towards front bent leg)

  • 30 Reps X weight

Split Stance Pogo Jump

  • 15 secs with R foot forward // 15 secs with L foot forward



HOW to BUILD STRONG FEET for RUNNING and PREVENT RUNNING FEET INJURIES


TOE YOGA: BIG TOE DOWN

  • You've probably seen the "lift your big toe only version". But have you tried this one?

  • THE CATCH: with this version of trying to raise all your toes but your large toe, you not only challenge the neuromotor connection between your brain and your big toe, you actively work on strengthening muscles that are solely responsible for big toe strength. Yup. It's a real thing.

  • DON'T BE A CHEATER (like me). This version of the exericse is harder than it seems. In an effort to keep the big toe down and raise the other reamining 4 toes, runners will inadvertantly invert or collapse they're foot inward. (I do this on my right foot a lot. I'm always working on it). This inversion is not true great toe flexion strength; it's a compensation. (want to learn more? check out the video above!)


IN-LINE LUNGE

  • If you have tight ankles: THIS IS FOR YOU

  • THE TRICK: it's a tiny motion. And it won't feel like much. But I promise it's working. A lot of joint (and muscle) tightness or tension is brought on by our nervous system. It's an effective mechanism to create stability and "coiled-up potential energy", ready to leap or jump at a moments notice.

  • The problem becomes when our neuromuscular system creates too much tension, resulting in not-so-great mobility in joints that really need to be mobile. This exercise helps to re-set that system, targeting your ankles.

  • Please note: if this exercise does not solve all your ankle problems, it's ok. Even normal. Everyone responds differently to various exercises.


BEAR CRAWL

  • I know; you're favorite ;)

  • WHY THIS EXERCISE: bear crawls are usually associated with core and upper body. But what you probably didn't know, is bear crawls naturally place your great toe in extension (think toes towards your nose) and your ankles in dorsiflexion (more toes towards the sky). This is a big toe motion and ankle motion are coupled together, meaning they typically happen at the same time).

  • THE PROBLEM: a lot runners are missing this big toe exention. and it impacts their gait MASSIVELY and DEVESTATINGLY.

  • Your big toe is the last body part to leave the ground with every stride and it helps to propel you forward. Good big toe mobility is crucial to good running form. And we know, sloppy running form means running injuries.

CURTSEY LUNGE WITH SLIDERS

  • More big toe extension!

  • Thats the position that sliders helps you maintain and work into as you travel through this curtsey lunge.

  • I espcially like this version because it combines glute strength with foot strength, a combination that is crucial for runners. What's fascinating is that by adding in the rotation towards the front bent leg, you are actually recruiting more glute muscles while simultaneously asking your foot and toes to work harder, providing balance and stability.

  • It's all about working smarter, not harder. but also, can you see how this starts to look like a looooong running stride, almost sprinting with that rotation?

SPLIT STANCE POGO JUMPS

  • I know you don't want to do these. Do them anyway.

  • THE SECRET: jumping is a fantastic way to wake up your nervous system, all the censors in your ligements, tendons and joints AND build tendon stiffness. The good kind of stiffness and tensions. Think durability and strength instead of painful tightness.

  • Beginner plyometrics like these still take time to learn and get comfortable. So take your time, remembered to keep your toes pointing UP and knee straight, especially after immediate contact with the ground. This exercise is NOT about jump height! it's about having the energy, the jump itself, come form your Achilles tendon while also asking your feet muscles to absorb load and turn around right away and create power.

  • BTW, can you see how this spit stance starts to looking running? ;)

WRAPPING UP

THE BEAUTY of this circuit?

Pick 3 of them (I highly encourage including the pogo jumps).

And use them as part of your warm up, especially if you live where you get cooler temps in the winter time.

Muscles and tendons often need a little extra TLC in cold temps and a runnign specific warm up designed to address:

  • foot strength

  • ankle mobility

  • tendon stiffness

  • and power...

is a FANTASTIC way to warm up!

Good thing you have one of those now ;)


One last story...

While living in Michigan in the land of snow and ice, I can't begin to tell you how many runners I'd see in the clinic from January to March (especially March) with various foot and ankle injuries because of killer, ankle eating curbs or black ice.


So if you live somewhere snowy, don't skip your feet exercises.

And if you dont, still don't skip your feet exercises.

Because Stronger Feet mean fewer injuires.


Speaking of stronger feet, if you want EVEN more feet exercises, check out my STRONGER FEET Workshop.

These are the exact exercises I give to countless runners in the clinic who are struggling with achey, general uncomfortable, tight feet all the way to specific foot problems like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, posterior tibialis issues, etc.


It helps you build a fantastic foot foundation that all runners should have, helping you run longer, stronger, better, and injury free.


Until next time running fit fam...


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. So many runners have already benefitted from the STRONGER FEET EXERCISES. and the best part? After you learn them, they take 5mins. that's it.

Get them in; get them done; get out the door and run.



 

Reference:


Taddei, U. T., Matias, A. B., Ribeiro, F. I., Bus, S. A., & Sacco, I. C. (2020). Effects of a foot strengthening program on foot muscle morphology and running mechanics: a proof-of-concept, single-blind randomized controlled trial. Physical therapy in sport, 42, 107-115.

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