How can we make our feet stronger?

Roman Koch


Many people are familiar with foot pain. However, despite our feet carrying us through everyday life, we often fail to dedicate enough attention to them. Make your feet stronger, faster and more resilient with targeted exercises.

Our feet have to withstand a lot: more than 10,000 steps a day ideally. They bear our entire body weight with each step that we take. Our feet were originally designed for barefoot running on natural ground, which is no longer the case with modern hard, flat and artificial surfaces. We stuff our feet into ill-fitting shoes and leave them to ‘fester’ there all day. This restricts movement, fresh air supply and puts no real strain on the foot muscles. As a result, they quickly degenerate and become easily overloaded.

Our feet are similar in design to our hands, and would also to be able to write properly with specific training. However, most feet are poorly trained and so they quickly become overwhelmed during coordination tasks. These untypical stresses often also lead to cramps in the foot muscles.

This can be improved slightly with the right training and by paying more attention to your feet. After all, well-trained feet will enhance your sporting performance. The following exercises should ideally be carried out 2-3 times a week. It’s a good idea to perform these exercises as a warm up right before you run or train.

1. Foot anchoring

When standing, the load on the back of the foot should be slightly more weighted (around 60%) towards the outer edge of the heel. The ball of the foot should be equally loaded between the big and little toe. However, the ball of the big toe is often insufficiently loaded. The following exercise is designed to actively stabilise the foot. It balances the weight on the ball of the foot towards the big toe joint and anchors the rear foot to the outer heel edge.

Here's how:

  • Kneel on the ground with one leg supported in front of you, vertical to the ground.
  • Gently press the ball of your big toe into the ground while placing more pressure on the outer heel edge than on the inner side. The foot is now actively being anchored     and aligned.
  • Maintain this position while slowly moving the upper leg and knee from side to side as far as they will go.  
  • As you move inwards, you will need to increase the pressure on the outer heel edge. As your knee starts to bend outwards, you'll need to anchor the ball of the big toe     more firmly into the ground.

Frequency: 2 sets with 20 repetitions per foot, performed slowly

Important: During this exercise, the entire foot must remain anchored to the ground without lifting the heel or toes.

Variation: Place a strip of paper (approx. 10 cm long and 2 cm wide) underneath the ball of your big toe. Hold the strip in place with the ball of your big toe. As you move your knee, gently pull at the strip but do not allow it to slide out from under you.

Take note: You may find that your foot position feels cramped at first.  The aim is to keep your foot as relaxed as possible. Both of the active muscles in this exercise are situated in the leg.

2. Strengthening the metatarsal arch

By placing even pressure on the ball of your big and little toe, you will ideally have a metatarsal arch. However, most feet are prone to splayfoot. This results in excess pressure and pain in the forefoot area, particularly during the rolling movement while walking. The muscles in the forefoot need to be slowly built up. It’s best to start by sitting to avoid any weight-related stress, then you can gradually increase the pressure until you are standing.

Here's how:

  • Sit upright on a chair (or stand).
  • Place the forefoot on a tennis ball. Position the foot so that the ball is directly underneath the base joints of the toes. Begin with the foot completely relaxed. 
  • Then, ‘hug’ the sides of the tennis ball with the ball of your big and little toe. Your toes will automatically curve downwards. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly bring the foot back to its relaxed starting position. 

Frequency: 2 sets of 20 repetitions.

Take note: Don’t claw the ball with your toes! Only the base joint of the toes should bend slightly. 

3. Activating the sole 

Activating the sensors in the sole of our feet enables us to control our muscles with greater precision. This means that the more feedback our brain receives from our feet, the better the motor response in the foot muscles.

Here's how:

  • Sit upright on a chair or stand and place a tennis ball under the heel of one foot.
  • Next, carefully move the foot over the tennis ball, starting from the outer heel edge towards the base joint of the big toe.
  • Reverse the motion to end up back at the outer heel edge. Next, move to the base joint of your second toe, then back to the heel, then the third, fourth and fifth toe. Always return to the outer heel edge between each toe. This is one repetition.

Frequency2 sets of 5 repetitions per foot.

Take note: The movement over the tennis ball should be deliberate and in a straight line.

Good to know: If standing, you'll also improve your balance on the supporting leg.