Every day on TV, in magazines, and online we see images of fitness thrown our way.  Exercises to strengthen your legs, your back, your arms, your abs, and your butt are constantly being demonstrated.  But, one area of your body that is often neglected during your workouts is your feet. And, unfortunately, not strengthening this area can have a detrimental impact on how the rest of your body feels and functions.

Furthermore, your feet tend to spend a lot of your life getting beat up.  Whether by wearing improper shoes, sporting flip-flops during the warmer months, or experiencing common injuries such as sprained ankles and stubbed toes, your feet certainly withstand a lot of assault.  This can leave them functioning less than optimally and force the rest of your body to have to consistently compensate for them.

With nearly 20% of your skeletal muscles attaching to or controlling your feet, you need to find a way to make sure these muscles get some love, too.  In fact, anecdotally speaking, I have seen that improving the stability and function of the feet of my clients is often one of the most impactful things that can happen to them.  Fortunately, there are five exercises that you can do anywhere to help improve the strength of these muscles.

Now, speaking from my own experience, I have noticed these exercise help improve symptoms everywhere from my feet to my neck.  When my feet don’t work well, the rest of my body starts tightening up and I start aching in my knees, hips, back, and shoulders.  Because of that, I have resorted to doing these exercises on airplanes, in grad school class, in the movies, at the dinner table, and anywhere else I can find a seat.

But, just because they have worked well for me, does not mean they are going to work well for you.  So, if you are experiencing a symptom somewhere in your body, make sure to go get checked out by a medical professional.  Once they clear you for regular exercise, I would recommend seeking out an MAT® practitioner in your area. You can find a list of all of the certified ones here.  Once you are cleared to workout on your own, I would consider starting to add in these exercises.

Before I list off the exercises, we need to discuss how the foot actually moves.  This is important to know because this will help us decide what exercises to do. If you understand foot mechanics in depth, you will know that this is a very complex discussion.  Because of this, I am going to simplify it and break foot mechanics down into four pairs of motions:

  1. Point in and out
  2. Make an arch and flatten
  3. Point up and down
  4. Point the toes up and curl the toes

Now, when it comes to the five exercises, I am going to suggest you pair some of these together.  The first exercise will combine pointing the foot in and making an arch. You should feel muscles on the back of your leg and bottom of your foot squeeze.  The second exercise is to point your foot out and flatten it. With this one you should feel muscles on the outside of your leg and foot working.

The third exercise is to point the foot up, point the toes up, and try to spread the toes like you are spreading the fingers on your hand by squeezing the muscles on the top of your foot.  Exercise number four is to point the foot and toes down, squeezing the muscles near your calf. Finally, exercise number five is to squeeze and curl your toes by squeezing all of the muscles on the bottom of your foot.

So there you have it – five exercises you can literally do anywhere that will help strengthen and improve the function of your feet.  When considering how much of each exercise to do, this would best be determined by your doctor and MAT® practitioner. However, personally, I am a HUGE fan of doing isometric exercises, and that is how I do each of these for myself.  I would consider doing anywhere from one to three sets of each exercise for three to ten seconds per set.

A word of advice – don’t jump into doing three sets of ten seconds for each right away because you think it sounds easy.  Remember, you likely haven’t been working your foot muscles directly at all, so you need to progress them slowly just like you would progress your legs or your arms.  Start with one set and work your way up from there over the coming weeks. And, if at any point you feel like you have symptoms that are getting worse, immediately stop, go get checked out by your doctor, and then connect with an MAT® practitioner in your area so they can see where you may be having issues with your muscular system.

Charlie Cates

Char­lie Cates, M.S. is a Muscle Activation Techniques® Master Specialist (MATm), an MATRx® Full Body Specialist, a mastery level Resistance Training Specialist® (RTSm), and a Cer­ti­fied Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Charlie attained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College in 2010, where he played varsity basketball for four years. In 2016 he graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a Master of Science degree in exercise science. A type-1 diabetic, he is the owner of Muscle Activation Schaumburg in Schaumburg, IL. He is an instructor for the Muscle Activation Techniques® program, introducing students of all different backgrounds to the MAT® process. Charlie specializes in managing and improving the function of his clients’ muscular system through the MAT® process and utilizing RTS® principles. He can be reached via e-mail at charlie@matschaumburg.com. Fol­low him on Instagram at @CharlieCates!


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