Three ways to improve strength and function.
What is intrinsic foot strength?
The foot is a complex structure with 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments that work to provide support, stability and mobility around the foot and ankle joints.
In many cases the foot is often forgotten about, often we don’t strengthen them like we would other aspects of our body. However, as the feet are the first point of contact with the ground it is essential that we consider how they can impact the rest of the body for better or worse.
You may have been told before that you have ‘flat feet’ or ‘high arches’, both are ok. The term overpronation is often thrown around too, but Nielsen et al. (2014) reported that foot pronation is not associated with an increased injury risk in runners. What matters more is the strength and mobility of your feet and whether you have the ability to access a variety of movements and ranges and be strong and controlled in them.
Why is it important whilst running?
To be as efficient as possible when we are walking or running our feet need to be able to access pronation, supination, dorsiflexion and planterflexion in order to absorb load as we take a step and then propel out and forwards into the next step. Hasimoto and Sakuraba (2014) found that running speed increased in those that went through a simple foot strengthening routine.
Having strong and functional feet allow us to:
– Cope with the loads and demands of running.
– Create an efficient chain reaction through the body.
– Prevent injury at the feet or further up the chain.
If our feet struggle to effectively deal with the loads placed upon them the body is likely to compensate further up the chain. As a result this can cause a range of problems and injuries commonly at the knees, hips, lower back and even the neck.
How do we achieve functional and strong feet?
Spend some time bare foot, let the feet move and load up without the restriction of shoes. They will learn to move more and deal with the loads placed upon them without the cushioning of shoes. Many shoes and orthotics can encourage our feet to become weak and lazy over time. Ideally, we want our feet to become stronger in these positions rather than relying on external support.
Try these exercises. If you can, do try them without shoes on to encourage full movement of the feet.
1) Single leg balance. 3 x 30-60 seconds
A wonderfully simple but effective exercise. When you are running you are only ever on one foot at one time, so let’s spend some time single leg and get comfortable here.
This exercise will encourage numerous movements at the foot including dorsiflexion, pronation and supination.
3) Curtsy lunges. 3 x 8-10 each leg
Stepping across the body encourages the foot to load up into pronation (flat foot position) and explode out into supination (arch position), a pattern our feet go through with every step when running.
If you have a niggle or injury that you would like help with, or you think you may benefit from a closer assessment of your foot function, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
BSc Hons Sports and Exercise Therapy MSST
Hashimoto, T. and Sakuraba, K. (2014) Strength training for the intrinsic flexor muscles of the foot: effects on muscle strength, the foot arch, and dynamic parameters before and after the training. Journal of physical therapy science, 26(3), pp.373-376.
- Nielsen, R.O., Buist, I., Parner, E.T., Nohr, E.A., Sørensen, H., Lind, M. and Rasmussen, S. (2014) Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe: a 1-year prospective cohort study. Br J Sports Med, 48(6), pp.440-447.