General Information
about Fitness & Your Feet

Your feet are one of the most overlooked body parts when it comes to exercise, yet they can tell you so much about your overall health. As you exercise, pay attention to what your feet are telling you.

 

Make sure to consult your physician before beginning any fitness program. This includes a complete physical and foot exam and especially important for those who are overweight, smoke, or haven't pursued any physical activity in a long time.

Proper fitness requires wearing the right clothes and shoes. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored and loosely woven clothing in hot weather and several layers of warm clothing in cold weather.

 

The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) stresses the importance of foot care in exercising. People don't realize the tremendous pressure that is put on their feet while exercising. For example, a 150-pound jogger puts more than 150 tons of impact on his or her feet when running three miles. The APMA also reports that improper foot care during exercise is a contributing factor to some of the more than 300 foot ailments.

The following are common ailments caused by improper foot care during exercise:

  • Athlete's foot;

  • Blisters;

  • Corns and calluses; and

  • Heel pain (including heel spurs)

Exercise Those Toes!

Many people underestimate the importance of keeping their toes physically fit. Toes take a lot of abuse from the hours we spend on our feet each day. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends doing the following simple exercises to strengthen your toes and prevent foot discomfort.

 

Toe raise, toe point, toe curl: Hold each position for five seconds and repeat 10 times. This especially recommended for people with hammertoes or toe cramps.

 

Toe squeeze: Place a small, cylindrical object, such as a wine cork, between your toes and hold a squeeze for five seconds. Do this 10 times. Recommended for people with hammertoes and toe cramps.

Stretching Toes

Big toe pulls: Place a thick rubber band around the big toes and pull them away from each other and toward the small toes. Hold for five seconds and repeat 10 times. Recommended for people with bunions or toe cramps.

 

Toe pulls: Put a thick rubber band around all of your toes and spread them. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat 10 times. This is especially good for people with bunions, hammertoes or toe cramps

 

Golf ball roll: Roll a golf ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. This is a great massage for the bottom of the foot and is recommended for people with plantar fasciitis, arch strain, or foot cramps.

 

Aerobics

More than 24 million people participate in some kind of aerobic exercise, which offers a host of health benefits, including increased cardiopulmonary efficiency, strengthened heart and lungs, improved circulation, lowered cholesterol levels, and stress and anxiety reduction.

 

Because aerobic exercise involves quick lateral movements, jumping, and leaping for extended periods of time, proper foot care plays a vital part in keeping the entire body fit. Common injuries from aerobics often involve the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Improper shoes, surfaces, or routines, and straining muscles by too vigorous a routine can lead to foot problems. Experts say that hardwood floors, especially with padded mats, are the best surfaces for your feet during aerobic exercise. And don't forget to stretch all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the leg, ankle, foot, and toes in a warm-up and cool-down periods before and after aerobics.

Aerobic Shoes 

Proper shoes are crucial to successful, injury-free aerobics. Old sneakers in your closet are not the proper shoes for aerobics. Major shoe companies today have designed special shoes for aerobics, which provide the necessary arch and side support; they also have soles that allow for the twisting and turning of an aerobics regimen. Be aware that running shoes lack the necessary lateral stability and lift the heel too high to support aerobic activity. They also often have an acute outside flare that may put the athlete at greater risk of injury from the side-by-side motion in aerobics.

 

Aerobic shoes should provide sufficient cushioning and shock absorption to compensate for pressure on the foot many times greater than found in walking. They must also have good medial-lateral stability. Impact forces from aerobics can reach up to six times the force of gravity, which is transmitted to each of the 26 bones in the foot.

 

Because of the many side-to-side motions, aerobic shoes need an arch design that will compensate for these forces. Look for shoes with sufficiently thick upper leather or strap support to provide forefoot stability and prevent slippage of the foot and lateral shoe "breakup." Make sure shoes have a toe box that is high enough to prevent irritation of your toes and nails.

Two other tips: buy your aerobics shoes in the afternoon, when your feet swell slightly and wear the same socks (preferably made of an acrylic blend) that you will wear during aerobics.

 

Stretching

Before beginning any exercise regimen, proper stretching is essential. If muscles are properly warmed up, the strain on muscles, tendons, and joints is reduced.

 

Stretching exercises should take 5 to 10 minutes and ought to be conducted in a stretch/hold/relax pattern without any bouncing or pulling. It is important to stretch the propulsion muscles in the back of the leg and thigh (posterior) as well as the anterior muscles.

 

Some effective stretching exercises to prepare the foot and ankle for exercise include:

  • The wall push-up. Face a wall from three feet away, with feet flat on the floor, and knees locked. Lean into the wall, keeping feet on the floor and hold for 10 seconds as the calf muscle stretches, then relax. Do not bounce. Repeat five times.

  • The hamstring stretch. Put your foot, with knee straight and locked, on a chair or table. Keep the other leg straight with knee locked. Lower your head toward the raised knee until the muscles tighten. Hold to a count of 10 then relax. Repeat five times, then switch to the other leg.

  • Lower back stretch. In a standing position, keep both legs straight, feet spread slightly. Bend over at the waist and attempt to touch the palms of your hands to the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Do not bounce.

Excessive tightness of the calf muscles can contribute to many foot and some knee problems. A key point of injury is the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the back of the heel. When the calf muscle tightens up, it limits the movement of the ankle joint. 

 

Calf muscle stretching is very useful in the prevention and treatment of many foot problems. Two typical methods for stretching your calf muscles include the wall push-up (described above) and this technique: Standing approximately two feet from a wall. While facing the wall, turn your feet inward ("pigeon toed") and lean forward into the wall, keeping your heels on the floor and the knees extended. Keep your back straight and don't bend at the hips. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and do the stretch 10 times in a row.