The muscles in the feet make up 25 percent of the body's total muscles. They can take a beating if you participate in sports, and just like any other structure in the body, dysfunction in our feet can lead to serious issues like knee pain and lower back aches. If you ignore your feet, it's like eliminating any other major category of exercises from your workout routine. Foot strength directly influences proper foot mechanics, gait patterns, ankle stabilization and whole-body balance.
After only a few weeks of strengthening your feet muscles with the following exercises, you will notice improved movement on the tennis court. Plus, if you've been experiencing aches in your knees or tightness in your calves and glutes, you may also notice the pains fading away.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Muscles1 of 9
First, it's important to know that there are two kinds of musculature in your feet: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic foot muscles have one end attached in the foot and the other in the leg. These muscles move your foot relative to the lower leg. The three muscles of the calves are all extrinsic. Intrinsic foot muscles have both ends inside the foot. Intrinsic motions move one portion of the foot relative to the other foot joints. One example is the abductor digiti minimi muscle that moves your pinkie toe out and away from the other toes.
Any imbalances in musculature in your feet will limit full range of motion and alter your running and walking gait. In the long term, this can cause problems and overuse injuries. Exercises that innervate the intrinsic foot muscles and restore the length of lower leg muscles are extremely important.
Toe Lifts2 of 9
Your toes are designed to have as much dexterity as your fingers. Each toe joint can flex and extend, abduct and adduct. These are basic, simple motions, but when you try it yourself, you realize how difficult it is to lift one toe without lifting all the others. It's important start a strengthening program for your feet, and work on it until your movements are fluid and the motor skills are visibly improved.
First, lift your big toe on its own, without the other toes lifting. Keep working on this movement until you're capable of doing it smoothly. Progress to lifting each toe, one at a time, until they are all in the air. Then, reverse and place them down again, starting with the smallest toe and working toward your big toe.
Toe Abduction3 of 9
Our feet can be compressed inside our shoes, which are often too narrow for toe movement. This narrow toe space in footwear creates weak toe abductors and tight adductors, which prevents your toes from spreading wide naturally.
For this exercise, stand up barefoot with your weight on your heels so that you can lift your toes. Then, spread your toes away from each other without lifting them off the ground.
Stretching the Toe Flexors4 of 9
Next, stand up and reach one leg behind you, placing the top of the foot on the ground. Relax and stretch your ankle. If you experience cramping in your toes, take a break and return to the stretch. Work up to holding for one minute on each side.
Strengthen the Bottom of your Feet5 of 9
For this exercise, scatter small pebbles on the ground and pick them up with your toes, one by one. Vary the exercise by placing your feet on a towel and scrunching up the towel with your toes. As you perform these movements, try to feel the muscles in the bottom of your feet.
Foot Circles and Points6 of 9
Many foot problems occur because of a limited range of motion or flexibility in the ankle and surrounding muscles. The simple and restorative flex-and-point foot movement, as well as foot circles, will create more movement in your ankles and a bigger range of motion.
To work with some resistance, take a resistance band and loop it around your foot. Pull on the band to create enough challenging tension, and do 20 points and flexes. Follow with 20 circles clockwise and 20 circles counter clockwise. You will definitely feel the muscles working. Repeat for both feet. If you find one foot is much weaker, repeat on the weaker side again, and do so until both sides are evenly strong.
Walking Barefoot7 of 9
Wearing shoes is like putting a cast on your arm after a bone break: Without regular use, the foot muscles atrophy quickly. When the smaller intrinsic muscles with fine motor skills atrophy, the larger extrinsic muscles start to compensate. Slowly, they are overused, developing trigger points and tension that can cause more problems.
It's also important to note that, if flip-flops are your footwear of choice when you're not wearing tennis shoes, they force your toes to increase the gripping action. This can cause chronic tension in the flexed position and eventually alter your balance.
Occasionally, you may want to walk around barefoot or in minimalist footwear to exercise the muscles in your feet during body movement. You will feel the ground differently, create a new sense of balance and develop a light foot strike. All this will help you to move lighter on the tennis court.
Rehab of Your Feet8 of 9
Finally, show your tired feet a little love. Besides strengthening and stretching, treat your feet to a massage, a hot bath and a moisturizing lotion on a regular basis.