Recreational and professional runners depend on strong legs and feet for speed, balance and endurance. Several different muscles support the bones in your feet and give you strength for push-off -- propelling your body forward as you run. Foot muscles are also responsible for adapting to changes in the surface you are running on, helping you maintain your balance. Extrinsic muscles start in your lower leg and attach to your foot. These muscles dorsiflex -- bend your feet up toward the ceiling -- and plantarflex -- point your feet down toward the floor. Extrinsic muscles also evert -- tip your ankle out away from your body -- and invert -- rotate your ankle in toward your body. Intrinsic muscles, that start and end in the foot are also important for stability and strength. Perform strengthening exercises as part of your training to keep your feet strong for running.
Strengthen your dorsiflexors with a resistive exercise band. Attach one end of the band to a secure table leg or in the lower part of a door frame. Tie a loop in the opposite end of the band, sit in a chair and place the loop over the top of your foot. Keep your heel on the ground and pull your foot upward against the resistance of the band. Hold two to three seconds and slowly lower back down. Repeat 10 times and work up to three sets.
Strengthen the muscles that plantarflex your foot with toe raises. Stand on a firm surface next to a chair or other stable surface to hold on to for balance if needed. Raise up on your toes and hold for two to three seconds, then lower back down. Perform 10 times and work up to three sets. As your strength improves, stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging below the edge. Raise up onto your toes and lower back down past the edge of the step. Repeat 10 times and work up to three sets in a row.
Eversion & Inversion
Strengthen the muscles that invert and evert your foot with a resistive band. Attach one end of the band to a stable table leg or the lower part of a door frame. Tie a loop in the opposite end of the band, sit in a chair with your right side facing the table or door. Loop the end of the band around the inside of your right foot, near your arch. Rotate your foot inward against the resistance of the band. Hold for two to three seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times. Turn the chair around and loop the band around the outside of your right foot. Rotate your foot outward against the resistance of the band. Hold for two to three seconds and repeat 10 times. Perform these exercises on your left foot and work up to three sets of 10 repetitions.
Strengthen the intrinsic muscles in your foot with towel curls and marble pick-up exercises. Sit in a chair and remove your shoes. Place a hand towel on the floor underneath your right foot. Curl your toes and scrunch the towel toward you. Repeat 10 to 30 times and switch feet. Place a small amount of marbles on the floor. Pick up a marble with your toes and drop it into a bowl. Repeat 10 to 20 times and repeat with the opposite foot.
Aubrey Bailey has been writing health-related articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in ADVANCE for Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy and Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University at Buffalo, as well as a post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy from Utica College. Dr. Bailey is also a certified hand therapist.