THERE ARE BICEPS BLASTS and core crushers, and everyone in the gym knows that you never skip #legday. But what have you done lately for . . . your feet?
With that question, you’ve now been introduced to the fitness world’s foot fetish. From barefoot-style shoes to devices that restore movement between your toes to foot-specific workouts, your feet are increasingly the center of attention.
Trainers are realizing that your feet are critical for both strength and speed gains. Strong feet play a key role in everything you do while standing, helping you drive through every stride and providing a sturdy base for all exercises. To build your feet into powerhouses, you’ll need to rethink how you train, a process that starts with five questions.
Why Do I Need to Do Foot Workouts?
Your foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and building up these muscles can have serious benefits. “Your feet absolutely require training,” says biomechanics researcher and running expert Jay Dicharry, M.P.T., “just like any other body part.”
Except the consequences of not taking care of your feet are more dire than those of, say, skipping biceps curls. Your feet are your body’s foundation; everything builds on that. “If you can’t feel the position you’re in, your foot can collapse in or shift out, and then the knee and hip follow, and then you tweak your lower back,” says Dicharry. The goal is to learn how to drive your big toe down for greater stability.
Do I Need to Lift Barefoot?
Lifting without shoes allows you to be more aware of your foot position, says Aaron Horschig, D.P.T., who regularly posts to his Instagram account, @squat_university, about barefoot training. During most exercises, you want to apply pressure into the floor with your big toe, little toe, and heel, says Horschig. That’s not easy to practice in a thick shoe.
This doesn’t mean you have to be barefoot when lifting in the gym, though. Powerlifters swear by classic Chuck Taylors, in part because they lack the thick heels of some sneakers. And shoes like the Bearfoot Ursus simulate the feeling of being barefoot—without showing the world your dogs.
Should I Run Barefoot?
Not exactly. But it’s time to reconsider your running footwear—and your running workouts. Many traditional running shoes have extra-thick soles that cushion your foot strike. Unfortunately, all that fluff prevents you from tapping your true speed. You generate power as you run by driving your foot into the ground on each stride, but thick-soled shoes dull some of that oomph.
In addition, they might actually cause damage: Shoes with more cushioned midsoles led to greater ankle-joint stiffness, according to a 2015 University of Calgary study. This can increase the risk of injury. But there’s no need to slog ten miles barefoot. Instead, do your warmups barefoot, says running coach Jes Woods, training your feet to properly