Running shoes are the one thing every runner talks about needing, but they probably aren’t helping your foot strength and mobility. With tougher tootsies, you’ll find that you have a more powerful foundation for logging miles. Also trail terrain will seem less unstable and stabby.
To help improve toe and foot strength and mobility, we turned to Danny Mackey, coach and manager of the Brooks Beasts Track Club. The former elite runner, who has a master’s in exercise physiology and biomechanics, says there are five areas of focus for the middle-distance runners he coaches: strength, speed, stamina, coordination and suppleness (or flexibility).
The following five foot exercises contribute to all of these. Mackey says, “Some of the strength issues athletes have is due to being overly supported in shoes so we want to reverse engineer this issue.”
Do all of these exercises barefoot, 3–4 days a week before running.
Stand on a slanted board with your feet fully planted and toes fully spread and actively splayed out. Rise up off your heels and onto your toes (often called a calf raise), with flexed toes and your big toe taking the load. Unless you have a ballerina background, you will probably need to hold onto something to maintain balance. Do 12–16 repetitions.
Stand up straight and shift your weight to your left leg. Use your right toes to pull at the ground, scrunching your toes, to move your right leg forward. Repeat 10 times, before shifting your weight and using your left toes to scrunch that foot forward. Do 10 times on each side.
Start standing up. Isolate your big toes and try to lift them up separately from your other toes. Then put your big toes down and lift your other toes separately. Alternate between lifting your big toes alone or the rest of your toes. Repeat 10 times.
Think of your heel, big toe joint and pinky toe joint as the three points of contact for your foot on the ground. Stand on one foot and “crunch” these three points of the triangle using the three arch muscles: the medial longitudinal arch, transverse arch and lateral longitudinal arch. Balance and hold the position for 10 seconds, then relax the foot flat. Do 6 times and repeat on the other foot. Note: Make these harder by standing on a BOSU Ball.
Stand up straight with both feet planted. Flex your left toes up toward the ceiling and then curl your toes down, so you can drag your left heel and move forward (probably just an inch or so). Relax your left foot, and repeat action with the right toes and foot. Do 20 drags with each foot.