When you’re training, you (probably) have never given much thought to your feet while you’re flexing in the mirror. Most people don’t think the feet are a body part to be trained like the chest, legs and arms.
But they’d be wrong.
The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons and they all deserve to be strengthened, just like your biceps do.
However, your feet are in socks and shoes most of the day and for a lot of athletes all those muscles, ligaments and tendons are forgotten about except while you’re pushing your feet through the floor during squats and deadlifts.
It’s worth making some time to train barefoot so that your feet are free to receive valuable feedback from the central nervous system because you’re re-engaging all the nerve endings down there. The feet are your only point of contact between you and the ground.
But we’re not here to talk about barefoot training today. We want to talk about the right way to engage your feet when you lift.
How to Keep an “Active Foot” When You Lift
Now to find out how important your feet (and toes) are when it comes to balance, posture, and strength — stop reading and try this drill. Stand up straight with you shoes and socks off and feet hip width apart.
Turn your right foot clockwise towards 1 O’clock and left foot anti-clockwise towards 11 O’clock (as hard as you can) but without moving your feet. It’s like you’re corkscrewing yourself into the ground. If you’re having a hard time picturing this, watch this video from Tony Gentilcore.
Do you feel that? By rooting yourself to the ground you are creating an arch, which should be felt all the way up to your glutes. Now look down and notice that your ankles, knees and hips are all in a straight line.
The ability to “grip” the floor and create and maintain this arch in while squatting or deadlifting helps keep your ankles, knees and hips stay in alignment, which puts you in a safer position.
However, if you lose your arch the heel can kick out laterally, which causes the foot to pronate and the tibia to rotate inward. (Note that resetting after every rep can prevent this.)
This inward rotation of the tibia can create torque on the knee, which can be a significant problem when picking up weight from the floor or squatting with a barbell. If this happens, it can completely misalign the lower extremity and puts you in a position of weakness and you don’t want that.
Instead, why don’t you show a little more love to your feet by doing the following exercises.
2 Exercises for a Stronger Foot Arch
The following two exercises may seem simple, but they will go a long way to strengthening those overlooked muscles of your feet. You’ll get stronger from the ground up.
1. Shoelace touch
This exercise from Taylor Lewis is harder than it looks.
Stagger your stance right foot back, left foot forward, your left heel touching your right toes. Shift your hips back and touch your right hand to the shoelaces on your left foot. Take your right foot off the ground and balance until you stumble forward, or you lose your balance. Repeat on the other side. Do two to three reps on each leg.
Being a single leg stance with your weight on the front foot, any collapse in your arch will cause you to lose balance.
[Find out three more general foot strengthening exercises here!]
2. Single leg KB swap
The simple act of swapping the KB away from your working foot forces you to maintain your arch or else you’ll lose your balance and bite the dust. Your ankle will be shaking like a leaf on a windy night.
Both these exercises can be included into your warm up or supersetted with a leg exercise that requires a strong arch.
1A. Barbell squat or Deadlift variation
1B. Single leg KB swap – 6 reps
1A. Any lunge or single leg variation
1B. Shoelace touch- 3 reps on each foot
It’s not all about the big showy muscles in the gym, the feet need some love and attention too. Although, your bare feet don’t look great in the mirror, they certainly help the muscles that do. If your gym allows barefoot training, then try it out, but in any case, these two exercises can go a long way to patterning a screwed in foot and helping your lifts.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.