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Why you should train your FEET (and how to get started!)

daily mobility feet healthy living injury prevention physical therapy Mar 02, 2024
barefoot walking on rocks

Most people that come to see me for injuries or performance deficits  have severely undertrained feet. What this looks like is weak arches, improper toe alignment, impaired balance and weight distribution through the foot, and the inability to isolate movement to individual toes. 

These impairments can have all kinds of impact up the kinetic chain into the ankle, knee, hip, and back. 

Your feet should be your stable base. How your body is able to connect with the ground, stabilize your body, and make micro adjustments to loss of balance, uneven terrain etc.. 

There are 33 joints housed inside your feet. All of which need the ability to move with control and strength. When we wear supportive and cushioned shoes all day, we lose the ability for the joints to function the way they were intended. 

Keep reading to learn what you can start doing TODAY to improve the health of your feet!

4 simple things you can do to start improving the strength, mobility, and function of your feet! 


1. Train your toes!

Your toes should be able to move independently of one another. In reality, the anatomy of our feet is VERY similar to our hands. This is why you will see incredible stories of people that can use their feet to write, cook, eat etc.. if they have lost use of their hands. 

But for many people, their brains have simply lost communication with their toes because the foot is always jammed inside a shoe. 

This 'toe yoga' routine is the perfect place to start working on every day. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't click right away. The act of attempting to move your toes independently is still increasing those neural connections between your brain and feet. 



2. Expose your feet to a variety of textures

You know how wonderful it feels walking barefoot on the beach? That's because the bottoms of your feet are filled with nerve endings that crave stimulation and sensory input. 

Or for my folks with babies at home- you know how they absolutely hate wearing shoes? It because their feet crave the input of connecting with the ground. Shoes deprive them of that capability

Unfortunately for many of us- due to weather, jobs, life, fear of getting dirty etc.. we don't find ourselves barefoot enough yet alone outside on different textures and terrains. 

Ultimately, my recommendation is to take your shoes off at least a few times a week and walk on grass, pebbles, sand etc.. Feel your foot mold around the various surfaces, sense your toes gripping the blades of grass. This may feel a little sensitive to you at first because the nerve endings are going to be way overstimulated when you begin. But I assure you that over time, they will not only get used to it, but they will crave it! 

What if you can't get outside regularly?

I also keep a rock mat at home for winter months when I know its not feasible to be outside barefoot. A rock mat essentially mimic pebbles and offers your foot some sensory stimulation from inside your home. I usually pull it out while I'm standing and doing desk work and use it for about 10 minutes at a time. 

Standing on a rock mat is also a great time to work on your balance and toe yoga movements :)



3. Take your shoes off and work on balance exercises 

Your feet are how your body connects to the ground. Taking your shoes off and doing balance work can be a powerful way to improve foot strength and control. 

As you do this, there are a couple things to focus on to ensure proper alignment and stability of your foot.

First off you need to focus on maintaining tripod foot contact. That that means is that there are 3 points in your foot that need to stay in contact with the ground at all times. 

These are the 3 points of contact to maintain: 

  1. Heel
  2. Big toe and the 1st MTP joint (big joint at the base of big toe)
  3. Pinky toe and the outer edge of foot

Second- you want to try to elongate your toes. A common compensation for poor foot control is that the toes and foot will scrunch. You want to actually try to make your foot take up as much room on the ground as possible. This is called an active toe splay and will help you increase contact with the ground for better balance and stability. 

Below is a link to a video tutorial for an exercise that incorporates hip mobility with foot stability. You will focus on maintaining a stable foot position as you rotate through the hips. 


4. Use toe spacers to improve toe alignment

A healthy foot should be widest thought the metatarsals (joints at the base of the toes) and then through the toes. However, most mainstream shoes do not have the same shape. They are actually often tapered in towards the toes. This means that eventually your foot starts to form to the shape of the shoe and lose it's natural shape. 

When the toes start to taper in and lose their ability to spread and splay, the foot loses it's ability to stabilize the arch. This means weak feet that are unable to do their job. 

Toe spacers can help offset this by stretching your metatarsals apart. 

This can feel really intense at first. I recommend starting with 10 minute wear cycles when you first being. And you can gradually increase over time. My current routine is to spend about an hour a night wearing toe spacers. I wear them while I do my nightly mobility and watch TV. 

There are many different brands of toe spacers with a variety of price ranges. I use the brand Toe Spacers as they are some of the most flexible and budget friendly on the market. 



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