11 Ways to Strengthen Foot Muscles and Heal Running Injuries

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Marathon season is like Christmas for podiatrists, and many people will be running — in pain — to the doctor for foot ailments that have their performance out of whack. The good news is, though, there are exercises that can be done to help without having to resort to extreme measures. Keep those feet in prime condition with these 11 easy moves.

First, we spoke with Dr. Phil Page, global director of clinical education and research for Performance Health. As a licensed physical therapist, athletic trainer, and certified strength and conditioning specialist, Dr. Page recommends the following exercises, while utilizing a Thera-band for added support, stretch, and strengthening.

*Consult your healthcare provider before beginning this exercise program. If you experience any pain or difficulty with any exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

1. Toe flexion

Place the Thera-Band over the sole of your foot with one end under the heel and the other over the toes, taking up the slack. Crunch the toes downward into the band. Hold and slowly return.

2. Ankle dorsiflexion

Wrap the middle of the band around the foot of the ankle you’re exercising. Place the ends of the band under the opposite foot to stabilize the band. Grasp the ends of the band at your opposite knee. Lift your foot upward against the band. Hold and slowly turn.

3. Ankle eversion

Begin by sitting in a chair. Loop the middle of the band around the foot to be exercised. Stabilize the band under your other foot and grasp the ends of the band. Push your foot outward against the resistance of the band. Slowly return.

Tip: Don’t rotate your knee to complete the motion.

4. Ankle plantarflexion

Wrap the middle of the band around your foot. Grasp the ends of the band at your waist, taking up the slack. Push your foot down into the band. Hold and slowly return.

Keeping in mind the importance of maintaining good flexibility in our feet, we also consulted expert Andrea Gilats, Ph.D, R.Y.T, and author of Restoring Flexibility: A Gentle Yoga-Based Practice to Increase Mobility at Any Age. Gilats says, “For strong, flexible, resilient feet and to keep cramps at bay, do these seven easy moves every day. Do them gently. Don’t strain beyond your current range of motion, but do explore the edges of your comfort zone. Move slowly but fluidly. If you’re persistent and patient, your range of motion will naturally expand over time.”

Gilats recommends sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet about hip-width apart for the following simple yet important stretches.

5. Rotate your ankles

Do this three times clockwise and three times counterclockwise, a few times a day.

6. Wiggle your toes

Wiggling your toes is, more likely than not, something that may never cross your mind. However, if you make a conscious effort to do so, your feet will thank you.

7. Curl your toes

Similar to the tip above, toes, though small, need their fair share of motion too.

8. Spread your toes

Once again, stretched toes are happy toes.

9. Point toes out

Pointing your toes strongly away from your ankles will engage the top of your foot through your shins for a nice, welcome stretch.

10. Point toes in

Point your toes strongly toward your ankles. There’s nothing like a great calf stretch. Tip: When you point your toes toward your ankles, focus on the journey, not the end point. Let your Achilles tendons and the soleus muscles in your calves relax gradually and gently. Remember, tendons aren’t as supple as muscles.

11. Butterfly stretch

Sitting up tall, bring the soles of your feet close to one another, aiming to touch sole to sole. In addition to forcing your feet to engage in a position they are not usually in, this move will also open up your hips for an added stretch.

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