How Fit Are Your Feet?

Want a better body from head to toe? Healthy feet will help you be stronger, healthier and fitter.
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Like many women in the gym, you’re probably working up a sweat for one reason: keeping your body healthy and fit from head-to-toe. But if you’re only paying attention to your above-the-ankle parts (toning your abs, shaping your shoulders and strengthening your quads), while forgetting to focus on your feet, your entire body — as well as your fitness goals – could be impacted. “The body is essentially a linkage system and the feet are the foundation to that system,” says Carol Frey, MD, assistant clinical professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “If your feet are painful or not mechanically sound, then this will affect your knees, hips and even your lower back.”

Making foot care a regular part of your routine could not only help to support other areas of your body, but it can also make you quicker, more powerful and better able to perform your workouts.

Strong Feet in the Gym

Your habits inside the gym can help to keep your feet powerful and injury free. Here’s how:

Stay firmly planted. When training, make sure to keep your feet firmly planted, flat on the ground, especially when you’re doing seated strength-training exercises (like biceps curls). Never compensate for a too-heavy weight by twisting your feet or rising up to your toes.

Train for balance. If you’ve had an ankle sprain, it’s worth training your balance, says Stephen Pribut, DPM, a Washington, D.C., podiatrist specializing in sports medicine. “Once you have a sprain, you’re at risk for re-spraining. Your proprioception sense decreases, so you can’t sense as easily what position your feet and ankles are in,” he says. Add balance exercises like the yoga tree pose daily.

Work your core. “A lot of foot injuries start in the core,” says marathon runner and podiatrist Elizabeth Kurtz, DPM, with Complete Ankle and Foot in Chicago. A weak core can reverberate all the way down your spine, right down to your feet (because it can cause you to compensate by changing your gait). It’s a good idea to add core training (like yoga and Pilates) to your regimen.

Did You Know?

When you walk, your feet are supporting three times your body weight. When you run, your feet support seven times your body weight, and jumping can mean that they’re supporting up to 10 times your weight when you land.

Signs To Look Out For

Feet are a good indicator of overall health. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s always good to check in with your doc.

  • Pain that causes swelling.
  • Pain that goes away but returns, or that used to happen only when exercising but starts to happen during other times as well.
  • Pain that worsens after a few days (instead of going away).
  • Pain that makes you limp or change your gait.
  • A blister that doesn’t heal, or becomes extremely red and swollen (which could signify infection).

Dealing with the “Not so Pretty”

Your feet work hard — and sometimes they pay the consequences. Here’s how to take care of some common foot problems so that you can get back to your weights and cardio routine, ASAP.

Calluses: If they get too big or start to hurt, file them down with a pumice stone after a shower.

Dry feet: Use a moisturizer that contains urea cream, morning and night. Marathon runner and podiatrist Elizabeth Kurtz, DPM, with Complete Ankle and Foot in Chicago recommends one because it’s especially good at breaking down the bond that keeps dry skin clinging to your foot.

Athlete’s foot: The athlete’s foot fungus thrives in moist, dark places (like your shoes). Take wet socks off immediately and wear shower shoes in public showers, Kurtz says. Dry your feet thoroughly. See your doc if you start to feel the signature itching and burning.

Blisters: Wearing moisture-wicking socks (instead of cotton) can help prevent blisters, says Stephen Pribut, DPM, a Washington, D.C., podiatrist specializing in sports medicine. Also, make sure shoes fit properly and your toes aren’t stuffed into the toe box. If you do get blisters, cover them with gauze pads instead of bandages, which don’t allow for draining.

Postworkout TLC

Whether you just spent the last hour doing cardio or lifting weights, your tired feet need a break. These strategies will help you recover quickly and have you training the next day.

•“As soon as you’re done, get out of your athletic shoes and get into roomier shoes to accommodate the swelling that’s happened,” says marathon runner and podiatrist Elizabeth Kurtz, DPM, with Complete Ankle and Foot in Chicago.

• Soak your feet in cool water (or an ice bath) to bring down inflammation or swelling (hot water opens up arteries and blood vessels, which can bring more swelling).

Try this DIY foot massage from Kurtz:

  1. Grab some lotion (any kind — just something to make your fingers slide along your feet better).
  2. Starting along the big toe joint, take your thumb and move along the bottom of your foot, through the arch, all the way to the heel.
  3. Do the same, but start at your little toe.
  4. Make a fist, and move your knuckles from the ball of your foot all the way to the heel (hit both sides and the center).
  5. Perform for two to three minutes to loosen up your feet.

Stretch and Strengthen

Give your feet a “workout” with these three exercises from the American Podiatric Medical Association. Aim for three times a week, before or after your workout.

Foot-Stretches

Stretch your arches: Stand with your toes against a wall, and lean slightly into the wall until you feel a nice stretch in your arches.

Stretch your toes: Put foam toe separators (easy to find at the drugstore in the nail polish aisle) between your toes and squeeze for five seconds; repeat 10 times.

Strengthen your calves: This helps to keep your feet strong too. Holding onto a wall or chair, lift up onto the balls of your feet and hold for five seconds; repeat 10 times.

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