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When it comes to performance training, coaches make sure they’re giving their athletes the best, well rounded program, hittin all of the major muscle groups, movement patterns, minor muscles, imbalances, tempos, etc. However, time and time again, I notice people always forget to include something critical into their training sessions. If this were an article from Jeff Cavaliere, aka Athlean X, then you’re probably thinking I’m talking about external rotation for the rotator cuff. While he’s 100% correct that external rotation of the shoulder is tragically under programmed, I’m talking about something else: foot strength. Now, obviously, some coaches know the importance of foot strength and are sure to include it in their training, yet, for others, the thought of strengthening the feet never even crosses their minds.
Especially for athletes or people involved in powerful or explosive activities (basically most sports), strengthening your feet might be the difference between being really good and really freakin good. Our bodies act as 1 unit, working together from the top to the bottom, so if we make sure to train every piece of this unit, why don’t we train the last piece? And yes, by the last piece I mean the feet, not your head. Although, some people could really afford to strengthen their head/brain, if you know what I mean.
Obviously our feet are super important. They are our base, they hold us up, they stabilize us, and they allow us to move in ways we want to. Just like any other structure in our body, feet are made up of bones and muscles. And where there’s muscle, there’s resistance training waiting to happen. Okay, let’s not be weird about all of this. I don’t mean we need to do toe curls or lift foot weights. That’s slightly stupid. But there’s plenty of exercises and adjustments we can do that work to strengthen the feet without you even realizing.
But before we get into those, let’s talk about why we need to strengthen the feet. We already discussed our feet as our base, so naturally, the stronger our feet, the better of a base we have. If our feet can survive under heavy loads of stress, they not only allow us to place even greater loads on them (e.g. lifting heavier weights), but they also then will be able to handle this stress on their own. Basically, that means that the feet can handle the stress you’re placing on them, so your other structures (bones, muscles, joints, tendons, etc.) of other body parts won’t have triple the stress on them since they don’t have to do their work plus make up for the weak feet.
Another important reason to strengthen the feet lies in the fact that our feet are the final piece of our body to transfer our energy into the ground and the first part of our body to receive the energy from the ground. Power and explosive moves require us to transfer energy that we create into the ground in order to propel in the desired direction. Every part of our body that takes place in the process is essential and must be as strong as possible to efficiently and effectively transfer all the energy. You always hear me say, you need to be strong to be powerful. Strength is the foundation of power, so without relative strength, you cannot be powerful. If our feet are not strong, they cannot transfer the energy we need them to into the ground. On the flip side, our feet also are the first part of us to receive the energy back from the ground. The same thing applies, if our feet are not strong, they cannot receive all the energy being transferred back to us. Thus, our bodies cannot receive the full amount of energy.
In addition to the ability to produce force, it is imperative that we can efficiently absorb force. Once again, our feet are the first part of us to absorb force, so if they are strong, they can absorb more force more efficiently. This, in turn, requires less stress on our joints, and ultimately allows us to produce energy very quickly after we absorb it.
Think of your feet almost as a spring like lever. The arch works to store mechanical energy to be used every time we take a step. So if we look at sprinting and jumping, you can understand the importance of our feet to these movements. The stronger we make our feet, the more energy our arch can store, so the more energy our arch can release to propel us forward. It’s essentially the stretch shortening cycle from plyometrics. The quick lengthening of a muscle into the quick contraction produces an elastic response similar to when we shoot a rubber band. And you know what makes us better at the SSC, well many things, but strength is certainly one of them.
So, at this point, if you’re still with me, congratulations. And to celebrate this accomplishment, I will now tell you the exercises and adjustments you can do and make to work on strengthening your feet.
1. Jumping Rope: while this might seem like just some childhood pastime, jumping rope is actually phenomenal for us. It not only works our feet, but it’s great cardio and works our entire body, especially our legs. That continual push off of our feet strengthens the muscles and the arch, and we have to learn to quickly push off, aka quickly absorb and produce force.
2. Pogo Jumps: this can lowkey be just another form of jump rope for those of you who don’t own a jump rope. It’s the exact same movement, just jump ropeless. You can do pogo jumps for a distance (my recommendation) like for 10 yards, or just do them in place for X amount of seconds.
3. Hang ½ Foot Off: when doing certain exercises, like a step up or front foot elevated split squat, you can hang the back half of your foot off of the platform to really work your feet muscles. By having your heel hang off the back, you’re forced to engage your foot and contract all the little muscles in there to keep you balanced on the platform. You don’t have your handy dandy heel to keep you balanced, rather, you must rely on your own foot strength to perform the movement.
4. Calf Raises: calf raises are quite similar to #3 in the sense that you’re balancing on the front half of your foot. Doing a calf raise, preferably a standing calf raise, you must drive through your foot, as that is the pivot point allowing your calf muscles to fully contract. Your foot will be strengthened as your calf is contracted, since your foot must be strong in order to assist your calf holding the load up.
5. Running in Sand: now this one might be tricky for those of you who don’t live by the beach or by a lake, but who knows, you may have plops of sand around your house that you can run in. But running in sand is a phenomenal way to work your feet. That unstable surface forces your feet to produce extra energy and contract the entire time. You won’t be able to run in sand if your feet are not strong. Okay actually you can but your feet will just be sore after. And, on the positive side, your feet will also be a little bit stronger than they were before.
Alrighty, well that wraps this one up. Long story short, our feet are crucial to the success of movements, so it is imperative we don’t forget to strengthen them. Hey, at least now you have an awesome excuse to go to the beach! Make sure you’re checking out our instagram, @powerlux_fitness, and our YouTube Channel for more athletic workouts and ways to train like an athlete for the everyday person! If you’re interested in working with PowerLux Fitness, if you want programming, training, or a consultant, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have top of the line trainers with experience training professional athletes ready to help you!
Until next time, stay rad ??