“Your feet are amazingly complex with 26 bones, more than a dozen muscles and countless nerve endings,” says Brian Kinslow, PT, DPT, owner of Evolve Flagstaff. “It acts as a flexible shock absorber for every step, a powerful lever to propel you forward when walking or running, and it’s a rich source of sensory information that tells the brain where the body is in space.”
Research shows that during running, the foot and ankle complex supports three to five times your body weight. When jumping, the amount of force varies depending on the landing style (such as two feet vs. one) and the height of the jump, but generally, you’re looking at a minimum of four to five times your body weight. In either case, assuming a weight of 150 pounds, that’s a minimum of 450 pounds of force through your feet and ankles!
If that’s not enough demand, the foot and ankle complex exerts force and movement in every direction, whether it’s straight forward and backward (sagittal plane), sideways (frontal plane), rotational (transverse plane), or a combination thereof. . During all these moments, the feet and ankles are absorbing the energy while bearing the weight, and when you move, they are unloading that energy and stabilizing the foot and ankle in the air.
Why is it important to strengthen your foot and ankle complex?
Considering the amount of force that goes through the feet and ankles, the types of forces and angles they deal with, and the amount of use we make of them (with every step), it’s no surprise that foot and ankle injuries are the most common. Injuries in the general, active population.
Further, foot and ankle complications affect the rest of the foot. When your foot hits the ground, a shockwave of energy travels through it and upward. The better the foot and ankle can absorb the energy, the less the shockwave travels up the shin, knee and higher.
Each of these factors contributes to the unique biomechanics of the foot and ankle complex. For example, the foot is divided into three regions – the forefoot (think ball of the foot), midfoot (from the front of the ankle bone to the beginning of the ball of the foot), and the rear foot (from the back of the ankle bone to the heel), each with different and unique mechanics, functions, and purposes. including
For this reason, foot health is a key part of overall physical health. For Dr. Kinslow, “Foot and ankle health is an essential part of orthopedic health. This is something we should consider with most patients and clients, even if they don’t have foot or ankle pain. So don’t neglect your feet and ankles!
If you haven’t thought of “training” your feet and ankles like the rest of your body, don’t worry, because chances are you’re in the majority. To remedy that, here are five research-proven exercises — along with progressions — to improve foot and ankle strength and function.
5 Basic Foot and Ankle Exercises
1. Foot and ankle eversion with bands
Sit barefoot on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Loop the end of a long resistance band around the ball of your left foot. Let it pass under your right leg (as if you were standing on it), then hold both ends in your right hand. Flex your left toes toward your face as you rotate them outward, then point downward as you rotate them inward. That one is representative. Start with two sets of 15 reps per foot and build in increments of five until you get to three sets of 25 reps. At that point, slow down and make the exercise harder by counting to five each time to return to the starting point.
2. Toe curls with towel
Sit barefoot on a chair and place a bath towel (folded in half) on the floor in front of you. Place a book or sneaker on the end of the towel opposite you and place both feet on the end of the towel closest to you. With your feet flat on the floor with the towel down, curl your toes to curl the towel like an accordion, pulling the weight toward you. That one is representative. Start with two sets of 15 repetitions and build in increments of five until you have three sets of 25 repetitions. At that point, make the exercise harder by wrapping a resistance band around your toes and curling against the resistance.
3. Seated heel and toe raises
Begin sitting on a chair with your bare feet about shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Lift both heels off the ground while keeping the balls of your feet on the ground and then slowly lower your heels down. Move with your toes and forearms off the ground while the heels are on the floor. That one is representative. Start with two sets of 15 repetitions in a seated position and build in increments of five until you get to three sets of 25 repetitions. At that point, make the exercise harder by doing the same progression while standing. The final progression to this stand is balancing on one leg at a time.
4. Short legs
Begin sitting on a chair with your bare feet flat on the floor. Without curling your toes, lift the arches of your feet, while keeping the ball off the foot and ankle into the ground. Start with two sets of 15 repetitions in a seated position and build in increments of five until you get to three sets of 25 repetitions. At that point, make the exercise harder by doing the same thing while standing. The final progression is stepping forward to balance on one leg at a time.
Stand on one leg for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side. Alternate between the two legs for three rounds. Once you can do this easily, repeat the progression on a soft surface like a pillow. For advanced balance training, repeat the above sequence and close your eyes!
This program helps build foundational strength, mobility, balance and reflexes in your foot and ankle complex to better cope with the high demands of everyday life, activity and sport. Give it a shot and once you get it down, you can integrate it into your daily warm-up as well. Your feet and ankles will thank you!