It’s time to get your feet ready for summer – and I don’t mean by getting a pedicure. Rather, I mean by strengthening your feet – one of the most under-worked parts of the body.
Your feet are critically important to balance, sensation and distribution of force during activity. Ignoring the muscles in them can not only lead to abnormal foot motion, but can also result in knee, hip or even low back pain. Several new studies also show that strengthening these muscles can help with running and prevent foot pain.
But how can you strengthen these forgotten muscles? First, by understanding where they are and what they do. Try standing barefoot on one foot and noting how hard the foot works while you try to maintain your balance. Those muscles are called intrinsics, the four layers of very small muscles in the bottom of your foot. You may also notice them feeling tired after walking in sand, since the unstable surface forces these muscles to work overtime. Your feet are also home to the plantar fascia, or the tough, fibrous tissue on the bottom. Its job is to protect, provide stability and contribute to the arches of the foot.
To strengthen all such muscles – and ensure the foot is working at its highest capacity – adopt these six tips:
1. Try toe yoga.
Visualize and practice trying to move each one of your toes independently. More advanced toe yogis may try some exercises like splaying the toes, bending only the big toe while extending the rest and vice versa. You can practice toe yoga while lying in bed or even while walking by imagining how each toe is operating independently.
[See: The 10 Best Exercises You Can Do for the Rest of Your Life.]
2. Work your feet.
While seated, try scrunching a towel toward you or picking up marbles with your toes. You can also try “foot doming,” or trying to lift your arch away from the floor, as if you are forming a dome, while standing on one foot. If this is too difficult, you can try them seated with your feet flat on the floor.
3. Focus on footwear.
Flip-flops and high heels are terrible for your feet. Flip-flops don’t bend well and prevent your feet from moving naturally. If you wear them, you might as well be walking on a plank of wood. What’s more, many people tend to shuffle their feet or clench their toes while wearing flip-flops in order to keep them on their feet, creating an unnatural walking pattern.
High heels, meanwhile, overly shorten the calf muscles, which impacts your Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia on the bottom of your foot. This movement pattern leads to problems with muscle tightness and lack of motion and can ultimately impact your ability to walk, run and jump. Instead, opt for shoes that are flexible enough to allow for natural movement and that provide arch support. Better yet, consider going barefoot when appropriate.
[See: 7 Pieces of Workout Gear to Ditch or Replace.]
4. Stretch your feet.
Stand with the middle of your foot on a step and drop your heel down. This stretch will not only target your foot, but also your calf muscles.
5. Practice self-massage.
Lucky for you, the feet are one of the easiest parts of the body to massage yourself. Perform deep tissue massage focusing on the arches of the feet and the toes. You can even replicate a spa treatment by first soaking your feet in warm water and then using lotions infused with peppermint or lavender, which help revive tired feet. Don’t like touching your feet? No problem. Just run your feet over a tennis or lacrosse ball to loosen up tired muscles and a tight plantar fascia.
Source:US News | Not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide