Foot Strength for Runners
If you are a runner, it is important to focus on your foot health just as much as the rest of your body. Your feet take a beating with every mile you run, so it is crucial to do some simple exercises to keep them strong and healthy. These foot strengthening exercises for runners will help you for life!
The feet are often forgotten and cringed at. I mean really, who likes feet?
I remember when I first started and then graduated from physical therapy school I hated feet. They grossed me out. In fact they still do a little bit, but they are probably my favorite body part to work on with runners.
Why? Because they have such a big impact on the whole body!
In this blog post, we will discuss the top foot exercises for runners. These exercises will help prevent injury and increase efficiency while running!
The Importance of Foot Health for Running
Foot health cannot be understated. Injuries to the feet are one of the most common injuries that runners face, more so in the masters age group but still common in everyone! This is because the feet take on a lot of impact with each step.
By now you should know (hopefully) that you should be doing strength training. However, how many of you are doing foot specific training when you strength train? What about strength training barefoot?
But why do you need to strength train your feet?
Feet are the base of support for us, literally. They are the first and only point of contact with the ground when we are running. This means that any dysfunction in the feet will travel up and impact your knees, hips, and even back!
Runners frequently have poor foot stability, which leads to a slew of problems including pelvic drop, knee rotation, and excessive ground contact times. Overpronation of the feet (flat feet) is the most typical cause of instability.
So, if you want to improve your running and prevent injuries, it is important to focus on foot health.
Anatomy of the Runner’s Foot
There are 26 bones in the human foot. This makes up about 25% of all the bones in your body! The bones are connected by 33 joints and there are over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that work together to move the foot.
The human foot is a complex structure that allows for a wide range of motion. The bones, joints, and muscles work together to provide shock absorption, push off, and balance while running.
When you run, your foot hits the ground with a force that is equal to three to four times your body weight. That is a lot of impact! This is why it is so important to keep your feet healthy and strong.
Runners Forget About Their Feet Strength
Crazy to think but true! Runner’s and most other people tend to not give their feet and the shoes they wear enough credit. They are the forgotten body part oftentimes until they become a problem. Then people will tell me “I didn’t know I needed to strengthen and stretch my feet!!”.
Modern shoes and our way of life have a detrimental effect on our feet. Our feet are in rigid shoes and not allowed to move the way they were made. This lack of movement and support from our shoes leads to weak and injury-prone feet.
As a runner, you need to take care of your feet just as much as the rest of your body! This means stretching, strengthening, and working on mobility with them on a regular basis. How to strengthen and stretch feet for running is just as important as other parts of the body!
Are Insoles and Orthotics better than Exercise for Runners?
There are tons of foot issues out there that are getting slapped with insoles or orthotics to “Fix” the issue. But, could there be a better way?
Orthotics and insoles can play an important role and have their place. But don’t these feel like a bandaid? And if they are, what is the real issue?
Exercises for runners aim to improve mobility, flexibility, and strength. This will help prevent injury and allow you to run more efficiently!
Many times an orthotic or insole is given because it gives immediate relief but it doesn’t solve the issue. So maybe you should dig a little deeper and see why your pain is being caused and if some simple exercises and time might be the cure for your pain!
The Top Five Foot Strengthening Exercises for Runners
Now that we have discussed the importance of foot health for runners and the anatomy of the runner’s foot, let’s get into the top five exercises for runners! These exercises will help improve your running by preventing injuries and increasing efficiency.
Toe Yoga for Runners
This is a great exercise for runners because it helps improve toe mobility. This is important for runners because the toes are responsible for providing balance and push-off when running. Also, your toes should be able to spread and move independently of each other.
How to do it:
While sitting or standing lift your big toe up while keeping your other 4 on the ground. Then switch by keeping your big toe on the ground and lifting the other 4 toes. Alternate back and forth about 10 times on each foot.
Arch Doming for Runner’s Foot Strength
This is a great exercise to help improve the strength of your foot arch. A strong arch will help with shock absorption when you are running. This exercise will also help improve your balance. Having a strong and mobile arch assists with how your foot moves throughout your gait cycle. Your foot was meant to pronate and supinate during the stance phase when you walk (or run). If your arch is not strong and mobile then you are going to be lacking effective movement in your foot.
How to do it:
While sitting in a chair or standing (sitting in a chair is easier until you get the hang of the movement) you will work on doming or lifting the arch of your foot by sliding the ball of your foot back. Take care in not curling your toes under or lift off to get the movement.
Single Leg Balance
This is a great exercise for runners because it helps improve balance and proprioception. These are important components in running because they help you be aware of your body and where it is in space. This awareness helps with movement efficiency and can prevent injuries. In addition, balancing on one foot requires all of your foot muscles and ankle muscles to work together and strengthen.
How to do it:
Start by standing on one leg with your knee slightly bent and your other leg lifted with the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. You can place your hand on a chair or wall for balance if needed. Once you feel stable, try to balance for 30 seconds.
Toe curls for Runner’s Foot Strength
This is a great exercise for runners because it helps improve the strength of your foot. A strong foot will help with shock absorption when you are running and can also help prevent injuries. This exercise specifically targets the muscles in the bottom of your feet.
How to do it:
You can do this exercise seated or standing. If you are standing make sure you have something to hold on to for balance. Start by placing your foot on a towel. Next, you are going to curl your toes to pull the towel towards you. As you get stronger you can even add weight to the end of the towel to increase strength even more!
This is a great exercise for runners because it helps improve the strength of the dorsiflexion movement of your feet (pulling the front of your foot up towards your shin). The amount of dorsiflexion required for running is around 30 degrees. Which is quite a bit, and something many people are lacking. Often, the lack of dorsiflexion isn’t a flexibility issue but more of a mobility issue. This exercise helps you to train your muscles into this movement for better mobility and range of motion.
How to do it:
Start at one end of a room and pull your toes up while walking forward on your heels. You will have to push your hips back some to keep your balance but try to get as much of the toe lift from your ankles as you can!
Most Common Foot Injuries In Runners
Now that you know some of the best exercises to prevent foot injuries, let’s take a look at some of the most common foot injuries in runners.
– Shin Splints
If you are a runner and experience any pain in your feet, be sure to consult with a doctor or physical therapist to rule out any serious injuries. These exercises can help prevent some common foot injuries but they are not a replacement for professional medical advice.
Final Thoughts on the Top Foot Strengthening Exercises for Runners
The foot is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is important for runners to take care of their feet by doing exercises that improve strength and range of motion. Finding the right exercises for strengthening your feet for running can be confusing! These exercises can help prevent injuries and improve running efficiency.
Do you have any favorite exercises for your feet? Let us know in the comments below!
Now that you know some of the best exercises to prevent foot injuries, as a runner, be sure to add these exercises into your routine. Doing so will help keep you running injury free and at your peak performance!
Related Articles to the Best Foot Exercises to Prevent Running Injuries
- Does Flexibility Make You a Better Runner?
- Strengthen Posterior Chain to Help You Become a Better Runner
- Single Leg Exercises for Runners
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The 5 Best strengthening Exercises for Runner’s Feet
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.