Foot Strengthening Exercises for Runners/Walkers – Harmful or Beneficial?

One of the newest fads is to utilize an exercise machine to strengthen foot muscles when training for a marathon.  Is it necessary?  I believe it is very questionable if one does not suffer with bunions, hammertoes, arthritis, or other pathologies. If one of these conditions is present, there are some exercises that may help, but not always.

There are multiple layers of muscles on the bottom of the feet as well as two small ones on top.  Overall, they are typically utilized to stabilize or assist in movement.  It is very difficult to isolate each group to work out like one would with, for example, strengthening your calves.  So, if you are trying to strengthen them, how strong do they need to be?  They are “worked out” every time you stand, walk or run.  If attempting to isolate and strengthen them is improbable, then is it really going to make you a better walker or runner?

While working out, you are strengthening all your foot muscles.  If your feet are ideally aligned, then they should all be strengthening together as necessary.  For example, the toes have up to 7 tendons attaching to them, aligning them straight.  The tendon, like a rope, is attached to a muscle, either in the foot or the leg.  ALL the tendons need to be pulling on the bones/joints, either moving them or stabilizing them, with each having just the right amount of pull power to not overpower one another.  Attempting to isolate and increase the strength of one may throw this delicate balance off, resulting in hammertoes or bunions.

Therefore, is it necessary to spend the time to strengthen your feet?  No, not always. If it is needed, for the average nonprofessional walker/runner, attempting to strengthen your feet should be guided by a knowledgeable professional.

One final thought.  How much do birds have to work out their wings before traveling south for the winter???  Just flying does it enough!


David J. Sables, D.P.M., C.Ped