Walking in nature is a healthy pastime that builds up immunity and brings you into contact with awe-inspiring sights of natural beauty.
Whilst it is important to engage in a fitness routine that conditions you for long-haul hiking, it’s also important to perform exercises that strengthen your feet.
There is a common misconception that foot exercises are only necessary when recovering from a foot injury or if you suffer from chronic pain in your feet and ankles.
Medical experts say otherwise. For example, Medical News Today reports:
“By keeping the feet strong, a person can alleviate soreness, and improve overall health and flexibility.”Medical News Today
Your feet and ankles provide support for your entire body weight. When you run or engage in brisk walking you’re putting more strain on the lowest part of your body.
It makes sense that your feet and ankles require strengthening exercises. Check out our top 5 exercises to strengthen your feet for brisk walking.
Flexibility and mobility are required for walking nature trails, especially if you are traversing hilly terrain. Ankle rotations help to loosen up the joints and muscles which reduce stiffness and pain when walking.
Medical researchers have also found that ankle rotations have medial effects on the hamstrings and also helps to strengthen your knees so that you can take more weight.
To get the most benefit from ankle rotations:
- Lie on your back with both legs outstretched
- Raise your right foot about 2-3 inches from the floor and rotate the ankle 4-8 times
- Gently lower your right leg and perform the same exercise for the left leg.
N.B. This exercise also helps strengthen your hips and stomach muscles which are also hyperactive whilst rambling.
Walking in the tips of your toes helps to strengthen your calf muscles and add flexibility to your toe extensors. It can also help people with fallen arches to strengthen your tendons and manage flat feet.
With your shoes off, stand on the tips of your toes and hold the posture for about 30 seconds to a minute. Then try walking about propped on the balls of your feet. You could also lift yourself up and down on your toes.
This exercise also improves your balance which is a good trait to have on a number of levels, but especially if you are walking over uneven terrain on hiking trails.
Toe Taps and Curls
The toe-tapping technique aims to strengthen your toe to help prevent potential injury. You can perform this exercise sitting down or standing up but it is easier to sit down.
- Lift the toes of both feet so they curl upwards, tap them on the floor and curl then inwards.
- Repeat the movement 15-20 times
This exercise is useful for building flexibility and mobility. You will also notice it strains your shin muscles which help to strengthen the lower part of your legs.
Tennis Ball Pickup
The tennis ball pickup was designed to increase the strength in the underside of the foot and toes. It also improves the flexibility of your sole, mobilises toe joints and hydrates connective tissues.
You can perform this exercise sitting down or standing.
- Place a tennis ball on the ground and rest your toes on top of the ball.
- Squeeze your toes around the ball so that it becomes wedged against the ball of the foot
- Lift your foot up and hold the tennis ball for as long as you can squeeze (or balance if standing)
- You may want to correct your balance using a wall or doorframe
Rolling a tennis ball around your foot can also have therapeutic benefits. Chinese medicine found that the foot has reflex points which are connected by nerves to other critical parts of the body such as brain, liver, kidney, heart etc.
Massaging your feet with a tennis ball stimulates the nervous system and reinforces sensory connections that may be weak because they are not used properly. The nerves in your feet can actually tell you a lot about the condition of other parts of your body.
Strengthening your feet is a long-term project but a little bit of practice everyday will take you a long way. And that could be the difference to completing a hiking trail or getting foot cramp or an injury along the way.
Regularly exercising and stretching your feet and ankles helps to support the muscles and joints in your feet that support you. So only put your best foot forward after you’ve done some strengthening exercises for your feet.