Foot strength is an integral part of how we maintain foot posture and dissipate impact forces during dynamic movement.
Chronic use of cushioned shoes and stiff arch supports has been shown to cause weakening of the intrinsic foot muscles and denervation of these muscles.
Plantar fasciitis, collapsing arches and stress fractures are just a few of the injuries associated with a weakening foot.
One way to strengthen feet is by changing out those cushioned shoes for more flexible, minimal shoes. Interestingly, research has shown that wearing minimal shoes can be an effective way to strengthen foot intrinsics, leading to hypertrophy of the muscles and increasing toe flexion strength.
But simply changing your shoes may not be enough.
This is where foot exercises come into play.
Although there are many foot exercises to choose from, one stands out from the rest and will give you the biggest return for each rep performed.
Can you guess which foot exercise leads to the greatest intrinsic activation?
A 2016 study by Gooding et al. compared 4 different foot exercises (short foot, toe out tap, big toe lift and lesser digit lift) with a T2 MRI to look for percentage increase in muscle activation of the abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis, abductor digiti minimi, quadratus plantae, flexor digiti minimi, adductor hallucis oblique, flexor hallucis brevis, and interossei and lumbricals (analyzed together) after each exercise was performed
The winner of highest intrinsic activation was short foot exercise!
This is one of the favorite exercises at Naboso and according to this study it caused a 30% increase in abductor hallucis activation.
FYI, the abductor hallucis muscle is the intrinsic muscle that plays a role in medial arch stability and the prevention of bunion formation.
A close 2nd was the great toe tap exercise however prior studies have shown this exercise has much lower compliance as it is technically more difficult to do and harder to isolate compared to short foot.
Haven't tried short foot yet? Let's try it!