4 Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet (And Ankles)
This article was recently updated on April 10, 2023
I’ve always been a fan of shoes as a fashion statement. However, when looking cool or sexy becomes the priority over feeling good, we have a problem. It is no secret nowadays that the health of our body directly affects how we think and feel.
The last 10 years of my life have been dedicated to helping others feel good in their body and mind. When it comes to feeling good, I always start with the feet.
Why Are Foot Strengthening Exercises Important?
Many of us know how to stretch and strengthen our abs, chest, shoulders, thighs, and buttocks. But what about the feet and ankles? Feet are the foundation of our posture, but they are often ignored at the gym.
You can improve your overall well-being by practicing a few main joint movements of the ankles and toes. Further down I will go over a few daily exercises to improve your health from the ground up.
Your Feet Affect Everything
When I teach yoga – especially my hip-focused workshops, I spend 20% of the time on the feet and ankles. The health of your feet directly affects all of the muscles and joints above, including the hips, knees, and lower back.
“Supportive” Shoes Are Only A Quick Fix
I always find it comical that modern medicine provides these solutions for your foot problems:
- Shove a sole into your shoe to lift your arches for you
- Find shoes that articulate your ankles for you while you walk
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for these quick solutions. However, they are not a long-term solution that will make your feet stronger.
Here is an analogy of what short-term solutions do to your body. Pretend that your body is a lazy employee at work, and your doctor is the manager. The manager can either:
- Teach us how to be productive and inspire us to take action
- Simply do the work for us and teach us nothing
- Firing the employee is not an option – you only have one body, after all!
The best option, of course, is the one that is better for us in the long term. However, most of us don’t actually take the time to support our overall well-being.
If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t a “lazy” human being. You are looking for solutions and answers, and you are willing to do the work. This is why you have chosen to wear barefoot shoes from Xero Shoes, isn’t it? You want to take care of your long-term foot health!
So, let’s get into building strength.
How Can I Make My Foot Muscles Stronger?
In order to get stronger feet, let’s take a look at the four main actions of the ankle.
Dorsiflexion is what we commonly refer to as flexing the feet. Stand on two feet and bend your knees, lean forward till your knees move forward. You’ll see the skin at the front of your ankle wrinkles, this action is called dorsiflexion of the ankle joint.
Plantarflexion is the exact opposite of dorsiflexion, and it is commonly known as pointing your foot as a ballet dancer would.
Sit down with your legs out in front and turn the soles of your feet toward each other like you are making “prayer” feet. This is called inversion or inverting your ankle. Note, you may sit up on blankets or a couple of pillows if your hamstrings are on the tighter side.
This is the opposite of inversion and is usually the most challenging. Stand up again, press the big toes down, and pull the outside edges of your feet up. You will see wrinkles form in the outer ankle, and you will feel the muscles along your outer shin engage.
What Feet Strengthening Exercises Work?
The following foot strength exercises will help to strengthen your muscles so you can perform the actions above:
1. Seated Plantar flexion
Sit down with your legs in front. Plantar flex and relax your ankles repeatedly with straight knees. You are trying to activate your calf muscles. Keep your feet everted by squeezing the inner ankles together.
If you need to, you can use a yoga strap to help with the range of motion. Try without the strap as well to build up your foot strength.
2. Seated Dorsiflexion
This action is the opposite of the first exercise. Sit down with your legs in front and pull the tops of your feet back. Release and repeat three times or more until you feel the heat building in the top of the shins. These muscles are your tibialis anterior muscles.
3. Calf Raises
Stand upright with your feet flat on the floor. Plantar Flex your ankles until your heels lift. Try not to let your ankles roll outward during these. The target muscles here are called the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.
To keep the ankles from rolling forward, you’ll be using the muscles of the outer shins.
4. Inversion and Eversion
Practice the inversion and eversion techniques described above. These exercises are the ABCs for your feet and ankles. Do them daily before getting out of bed to wake up all the muscles in your foot and ankle.
Bonus: The Toes
Take your foot exercises up a notch by spreading your toes. Also known as abduction, and you can do this either with a toe spreader or using your fingers to separate the toes. With time and repetition, you will be able to use your muscles to spread your toes.
Until next time,
Matt Giordano, aka @TheYogiMatt
The information in this post does not take the place of medical advice. Only your doctor can provide advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have questions about your health.