As fit and active people, we often take our feet for granted and instead choose to concentrate on the larger vanity muscles. We like working the areas we can see or the ones that help us fit into our skinny jeans.
However, ignoring these small paddles, we miss out on one of the most important aspects of all athletic endeavors: performance.
The human feet have 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. They are our shock absorbers and push the pavement away with the entire weight of our bodies, powering us through our run.
The stronger your feet, the more power you have in your push and the faster your legs can move.
If you're a runner looking to shave multiple seconds off your mile, or minutes off your marathon, these foot strengtheners will get closer to your goal. Please note, it is important to remain barefoot during these exercises so that your feet can fully articulate.
More: 4 Exercises to Strengthen Ankles
Barefoot Calf Raises
These are a good warm-up for any speed or strength-training workout because they wake up the entire lower half of the body. Stand barefoot with your feet hips distance apart and slowly raise and lower your heels.
When lifting, make sure that the tops of your feet, your ankles and calves are all in a straight line; if your ankles bow out, you could wind up with an injury.
If you are unsure about your form, it may help to have a chair or railing nearby for balance and to start by performing these exercises in front of a mirror.
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For those looking for a more interesting way to squat, these are for you. Unless your balance is so good you can practically levitate, you will probably want to rest your hand on a railing or chair, and place a block or small round ball in between your upper thighs.
Once your props are in place, stand with your bare feet hips distance apart and lift your heels off the floor. Once you feel stable, squeeze the ball or block between your legs and bend your knees as far as you can while keeping your heels raised and back straight. Hold here for a count of 30, then rise up an inch, and drop an inch.
Repeat for a set of 30 and then finish with another 30-count isometric hold. To get the greatest benefit, make sure that your heels do not drop as you squat and try to keep your thighs parallel to the ground at all times.
More: How to Master the Squat