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Strengthen Your Feet for Better Workout Performance

 | 13 Comments  | Fitness


As I have shared with you in the last Coffee Talk, walking and exercising barefoot is really healthy and can help you avoid a lot of pain, and muscle imbalances in a the long run. It is the first step towards strengthening your feet which is something that has been underestimated in fitness until just recently.

We’ve been paying so much attention to core training and core strengthening that we have completely neglected our feet. What we have now discovered is that the stronger your feet are the stronger is your foundation for all sports and fitness.

You’ll be surprised how much you can improve your strength, balance, power, and control, if you start strengthening your feet on a daily basis simply by building the foundation that is responsible for transferring all the force from your body to the ground.

It’s really important that you start training your feet slowly. Just like you can’t expect to be able to lift your own bodyweight overhead without proper training, you can’t expect your feet to be strong enough to do all the advanced exercises right away.

Start by simply walking barefoot on a grass or another soft surface like on the beach. It’s summer so you can really enjoy a little walk through the park without wearing your shoes.

The soft and uneven surface of the grass will help to activate the muscles in your feet and increase the range of motion in all the joints. Almost 30% of the joints in your body are in your feet. So improving their stability and articulation is very important, but that’s why you should also start slowly.

Using foam rollers is also a great way to strengthen your feet. Start by massaging your feet gently and then gradually apply more pressure. In order to create change, you should always feel a medium discomfort.

Here are the different stages of progress with a foam roller:

1. Massage your feet in a seated position. Always start from the outside of your foot and emphasize on massaging from the ball of your foot towards the heel.

2. Massage your feet one at a time, gently, without putting all the weight into it.

3. Step on the foam roller and try to balance. Step off once you start feeling medium discomfort. Practice and try to increase the time on the foam roller up to one minute.

4. Once you have the balance and strength in your feet to stand on the foam roller, try doing squats. Remember the proper form for a squat: Push your hips back, try to maintain the natural curve in your lower back, keep your chest up.

5. Once you’re confident doing squats you’ll be able to challenge yourself with a medium size weight. By then you should notice some great changes happening to your overall athleticism.

Doing heel raises and walking or doing squats on the balls of your feet is also a great way to strengthen your feet and improve your balance, not to mention you’ll be shaping up your calves and your thighs. I can swear on this from my own experience that my legs have never looked better since I started training my feet this way.

The balance will be an issue at the beginning so using a chair or a wall for light support is a great way to practice. I had to start this way as well and now I’m able to do Ballerina Plie Squats without a support and with weights. Just keep in mind that it’s a process and it will take time.


You can also do simple heel raises anytime during the day especially if you’re at home and barefoot. Another great way to improve your joint mobility and strengthen your feet and ankles is using balance equipment such as Bosu Ball, Terra-Core and balance boards such as the Pono-Ola.

The Pono-Ola is very gentle and great for beginners. It gives you the foundation for more challenging feet position and exercises. The Terra-Core and Bosu are more advanced and I suggest you start with the basics – position your feet above your heels and do some simple bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, weight shifts. And focus on dorsiflexion rather than everting your feet by standing at the edge of the balance trainer. An untrained foot and ankle is more prone to injury so you want to strengthen them first before you start exploring different directions. If you start jumping right away, you might twist your ankle so let your feet and ankles get stronger and used to the balance trainer before you start doing any advanced exercises.

It won’t take too long but you have to be patient and listen to your body. It’s not worth to risk an injury and then not be able to exercise for weeks.

So I hope you’ll start practicing and if you want more guidance, make sure to join ZGYM and start working out with me on a daily basis. I’ve been doing a lot of barefoot workouts lately for beginners and advanced so you’ll have plenty training for your feet and the rest of your body.

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13 comments on “Strengthen Your Feet for Better Workout Performance”

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    Private  | 

    I did four years of skating lessons as a kid so
    While I’ve gotten out of shape I can do things that require balance like pistol squats. I think I have strong ankles but I’d like to improve on that though there’s always room for improvement right

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    Private  | 

    Thank you!

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    Private  |  Minnesota, USA

    I was used to being barefoot for martial arts practice (including our jump rope warm ups), and then I began barefoot hiking and trail running. Even though I don’t do those anymore, I don’t like wearing shoes for workouts and have always done the ZGym workouts barefooted (except if I jump rope outside on concrete).

    So I am happy that Zuzka is talking about this!

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    Private  |  Santiago, Chile

    Great advice, Zuzka! I will definitively try the exercises you suggest. Thanks very much!

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    Private  | 

    Love this !!! In Pilates we are taught from day one, that feet are the foundation. In Reformer work, it is the very first set of exercises taught. Lots of more challenging exercises for balance are taught, but only when your “footwork” is strong.

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    Private  |  caseyville, illinois

    This is exactly what i have been doing for years now as Miranda esmonde white from classicalstretch has taught me this.

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    Private  | 

    Your suggestion is great. Thank you very much…

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    Private  |  Sydney, NSW, Australia

    I love giving myself feet reflexology massages using a golf ball. It’s a bit painful and crunchy sometimes, but feels amazing after 🙂

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    Private  | 

    Hey Zuzka and fellow Warriorz!
    Just wanted to add some other ways to strengthen your foot’s intrinsics muscles (the muscles specifically of the foot that do not have an attachment above the ankle). I’m a physical therapist and this is something we look at specifically when folks are coming out of casts/walking boots or dealing with foot issues like plantar fasciitis, but even if you spend all your time in shoes you might find these helpful (in conjunction with the mobility and exercises Zuzka already provided).
    1. Toe Towel Curls: Sit in a chair on a flooring surface that’s smooth (about anything other than carpet). Take a small towel and spread it out on the floor. With the toes of one foot, grab and scrunch the towel. Keep grabbing and scrunching the towel for 1-2 minutes. When it’s needed, just spread the towel back out. You can add resistance by putting a dumbbell or book on the opposite end of the towel. Work each foot individually.
    2. Marble Pick-ups: This one is fun to “torture” a patient fresh out of a cast. I give my patients a timer and 40 marbles (decorative pebbles for vases will work). The goal is to pick the marbles up with one foot as fast as possible and place them in a small bowl on the ground. They can only pick up one marble at ta time. A healthy foot should be able to get all 40 marbles in around a minute. I had one patient who’d spent his entire childhood in orthotics for no reason other than flat feet (not a reason on its own to warrant orthotics). He had no strength to his intrinsics as evident by the fact in 20 minutes he only picked up 20 marbles. But these muscles respond quick. On his second visit he got all 40 marbles in under 10 minutes. His third visit got all 40 in just over 5.
    3. Sandbox Marching: This one comes from another PT friend who runs ultra marathons in sandals. Yes, sandals. This is specifically what she did to build up her intrinsics as she transferred from traditional running shoes to minimalist running shoes (an absolute MUST for anyone considering the move). She bought 2 bags of playground sand from a home improvement store and one large plastic bin with a lid. Every night for about 3-4 months, she would stand in her sandbox, marching, really digging her feet into the sand and pulling out, for 30 minutes while she watched TV. As a PT and running coach, this is one of the exercises she gives her patients and clients recovering from injury or looking to make the move to minimalist shoes. It takes time to build up but it does pay off.

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      Private  | 

      Hey Celeste, thanks so much for this awesome advice. I have been battling plantar fasciitis for several months. It improves then flares again and I’m struggling to do the Z Gym exercises barefoot, even though I do try. I find I have to limit it to alternating days where I exercise bare foot and not and am still battling a flare. Your tips are so helpful and I’m eager to try the towel one. Will have to get some marbles too (any particular size?) and on the lookout for a sandpit. Right now I’m using a lacrosse ball for stretches

      • private avatar image

        Private  | 

        Marbles should be about a centimeter in diameter. And if it’s hard to find marbles, small decorative pebbles like for a vase work equally as well.

        Make sure you stretch your calves as well as the massage Zuzka talks about for the feet. I’ve solved a lot of plantar fasciitis working on trigger points in the calves – the Achilles’ tendon attaches at the base of the heel bone and if it’s too tight that’s what actually causes the plantar fasciitis. Deep tissue work on the calves can be a little miserable if they’re muscular but might really help you get better faster.

        I’m not a huge fan of orthotics for daily wear, but even off-the-shelf shoe inserts can help alleviate some of the daily stress on the plantar fascia while it’s trying to heal. Per the research, they’ll speed up recovery.

        Hope this helps.

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          Private  | 

          Thanks so much, will also incorporate calf stretches and I’ll look up some trigger points for the calves

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    Private  |  Veradale, WA, USA

    I ordered a foam roller as soon as I saw this video and what an incredible difference in my feet already. I have had extensive surgery on both feet many years ago after an accident and often the pins and clips can make them inflexible and stiff. Not anymore! I noticed a difference immediately on my extensive walks in the morning with mt dog. Truly a wonderful thing in my life. Thank you so much for being an inspiration and a source of excellent instruction and advise. I working on the balancing on my foam roller now.

    And to Celeste, great advice about the marbles!

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