Posted 27 February 2011 by Josh Hewett

Build Strength From

The Ground Up

If you suffer from foot, ankle, knee, low back pain, or related problems including shin splints, bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, ‘fallen’ arches, or Achilles tendonitis, then this article should be of particular interest to you. Your feet might be limiting your strength training progress.

The feet are the body’s base of support. During exercise, sport, and most daily activities, force enters the body through your hands and feet, with the feet supporting the bulk of this workload.

However, whereas most people understand the importance of grip training and how strong hands contribute to a strong upper body, our feet are often neglected. Most people just shove their feet into rigid dress shoes or ‘bouncy’ running shoes and forget about them.

Binding up your feet with rigid orthotics or “ultra-supportive”, inflexible shoes can also interfere with their ability to move naturally. Less movement (or poor movement) leads to more weakness. Stimulating and exercising your foot muscles will improve both your strength and balance.


The fact is that most modern footwear may cause more problems than they correct.
Firstly, most major shoe companies include a rigid mid-foot and all types of cushioning systems in their running shoes (such as “Super Springs”, “Motion Control”, “Shox”, or “Air”) which are intended to reduce impact forces. However, the science behind most of these designs is questionable at best.
During an effective push-off when your foot contacts the ground it will transfer the forces absorbed by the muscles back into the ground. In fact, your body gets a lot of information from these ground forces. Excessive cushioning reduces the amount of information that your body receives through the feet, and you will lose a certain percentage of strength and flexibility as a result.

These shoes also create a problem when it comes to lifting weights. When you perform ground-based exercises such as deadlifts, squats, lunges, Olympic lifting or jumping exercises, you need to apply force into the ground through your feet to move the weight. What happens is this cushiony athletic footwear ends up “absorbing” the force rather than transferring it from your feet to ground. This makes your training very inefficient.
Your feet must be allowed to move and flex naturally to stay healthy and strong. They also need to “communicate” with the ground. What this comes down to is wearing as little shoe as possible.

Science tells us some of the many other benefits of training in bare feet. Research has indicated that the benefits include optimal development of the arches of your feet, better alignment of your toes, strengthening of the intrinsic muscles of your feet, better balance, less risk of injury, and more efficient locomotion.

Should I Start Training Barefoot Immediately?

That most likely would NOT be a good idea. Due to restriction of movement, lack of exercise and minimal stimulation your feet have likely become very weak. Years of wearing tight, restrictive, binding, cushiony shoes will put your feet to “sleep” and lead to atrophy of your foot muscles. You need to gradually strengthen your feet and slowly introduce them to greater range of motion.
Walking barefoot on soft sand or grass is a great way to start… plus it feels good! If you have access to a beach or a well manicured lawn, slowly progress from walking barefoot for a few minutes at a time and working up to a longer duration, before introducing more challenging barefoot activities.

For walking on solid surfaces such as concrete, I suggest you wear appropriate footwear that will provide minimal support while still allowing for greater natural movement of your feet. The following is a list of footwear I recommend. Again, the key is to wear as little shoe as possible:

• Nike Free 5.0: Good

• Converse Chuck Taylors: Very Good

• Vibram Five Fingers KSO: Awesome

• The Human body, Bare feet: Best

Starting off wearing the Vibram Five Fingers KSO may allow for too much foot mobility at first. It may be best to gradually progress from wearing Nike Free to Chuck Taylor’s and then to Vibrams before attempting to train in bare feet. Above all, when it comes to your footwear, think function rather than fashion.

Can I Train My Feet?

Yes, you can actually train your feet just as you can any other muscle group. In fact, some of my clients have experienced fantastic results by training their feet, including a significant increase in overall strength and mobility! So if you want to get more “jacked” while fixing your feet, try some of these methods listed below to strengthen your feet and lower leg muscles:

1. Footwear to Barefoot Progressions:

As I have already discussed, you can strengthen your feet by gradually introducing shoes that allow greater mobility and eventually progressing to walking and exercising barefoot on softer surfaces such sand or grass.

2. Warm Up and Mobility Exercises:

Just as you would warm up any other body part before training, the same applies to your feet. Start with foot and ankle rotation in both directions, as well as performing some toe squeezes. Finish by walking for several steps on your heels and on your toes.

3. Eversion and Inversion Isometrics:

• Sit down and place the outside of your foot against a table leg or closed door
• Rotate your foot outward, pushing it into the object your foot is against (your ankle should not move) causing a contraction of your muscles.
• Repeat in the opposite direction, with the inside of your foot pushing against a table leg or closed door.
• Hold each muscle contraction for 10 seconds, then relax for 10 seconds.
• Repeat 3 times

4. Calf Raises:

Press yourself up onto your toes and focus on drawing your heels upward toward your calves. Hold this contraction for a couple of seconds, then lower and repeat. As you become stronger you can work on one leg at a time.
Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

5. Reverse Calf Raises (Tibialis Toe Taps):

Begin by leaning back on an exercise ball against the wall, with your feet slightly in front of you. Keep your knees extended (locked straight), and slowly raise feet up (dorsi-flex) while focusing on driving your heels down into the ground. This movement is essentially the opposite of the calf raise. You should feel the muscles in your shins contracting (tibialis anterior).

Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Healthy, functional feet are integral to athletic performance, full body strength, mobility, and good health. Start taking better care of your feet by choosing the appropriate footwear and training them as you would any other lagging body part. By following the advice in this article you will develop stronger, healthier, more flexible feet and will most likely notice a significant improvement in every other ground based activity you perform.

Written by CutAndJacked Specialist contributing author Josh Hewett

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