Strengthening and Stretching Your Feet: The Missing Link in Your Race Training Program

Clos up of many sets of feet on a run or in a race.

When it comes to training for a race or competition, we often focus on strengthening various muscle groups in our body, from our legs to our arms and chest. However, we often overlook the importance of strengthening and stretching our feet, even though they bear the brunt of our physical activities.   

Even if we wear the best shoes and have the most optimal form, taking specific care of our feet is an important part of any training program.   

The importance of foot strength.

It’s crucial to recognize that our feet play a vital role in our movement, acting as the primary point of contact and initial controlling point for our bodies in relation to the ground. This is especially true during walking, running and jumping. Weakness in the intrinsic foot muscles, which are located in the arch and the bottom of the foot, can lead to poor mechanics and put excessive stress on the entire leg. Consequently, foot weakness can contribute to a range of issues, annoying injuries and nagging pain that hinder our ability to stay active and perform at our best. 

To effectively strengthen the foot muscles, it’s essential to focus on controlling the toes and the arch. By developing the ability to spread the toes to help grip the ground, you enhance stability and enable the force generated during walking or running to transmit through the foot more efficiently. Maintaining a strong arch is also vital, as it enhances shock absorption and helps prevent excessive strain on the surrounding foot structures.

Try incorporating these two exercises into your training program to strengthen your feet: 

Toe Pick-Ups

Sit in a comfortable position and spread your toes as wide as possible. Hold for a few seconds and then relax. Once you’ve spread your toes in this manner a few times, place a few marbles or small objects on the ground and use your toes to pick them up one by one, placing them into a container. This exercise helps improve dexterity and strength in the foot muscles. 

Calf Raises

Stand on the edge of a step or a raised surface with the balls of your feet. Slowly lift your body by pressing onto the balls of your feet and raising your heels as high as possible. Hold for a few seconds and then lower your heels back down. Repeat the motion for several sets. This exercise targets the muscles in the calves and feet, while also stabilizing the ankles. 

The power of foot flexibility.

Just like any other muscle, foot strength must be complemented by foot flexibility. Adequate flexibility in the feet allows for a wider range of motion, improves balance, and reduces the risk of injuries. Incorporating stretching exercises for the feet can help maintain or enhance flexibility alongside strength.  

Here are some simple stretches to include in your routine:  

Plantar Fascia Stretch

Sit with one leg crossed over the other, and gently pull your toes back toward you until you feel a stretch in the sole of your foot. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other foot. You can also perform this move by placing the toes against a wall and sliding your foot down until the ball rests where the wall meets the floor. Hold this position. To increase the stretch, press the knee toward the wall without lifting the heel. 

Toe Extension Stretch

Sit on the floor and interlace your fingers between your toes. Gently spread your toes apart while keeping your heel on the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds and release. 

By incorporating specific exercises to strengthen and stretch your feet, you can improve your overall performance and prevent injuries. Remember, your feet are the foundation of your movement, and neglecting their care can have far-reaching consequences. So, make it a priority to include foot exercises in your training program. Dedicating time to your foot health will pay off in the long run.  


Foot Pain Keeping You from Your Passions? 

If you’re training for race season, whether you want to complete your first 5K run or your 5th marathon, physical therapy can be a great way to ensure your program is optimized to get you across the finish line. 

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