A fitness expert recommends an exercise to improve foot strength so the foot moves better and is less likely to be injured.

Strong feet are the foundation of many of our activities. Walking, running and a great variety of sport and recreational hobbies rely on the feet as the main contact with the ground and base of support. Despite their importance, foot strength and function generally go unnoticed until there is a problem — like a bunion or plantar fasciitis, a common cause of heel pain.

One misconception is that wearing supportive shoes is enough to take care of our feet.

One misconception is that wearing supportive shoes is enough to take care of our feet. Protecting the soles of our feet is important but constant support can lead to muscle weakness and the loss of proper function.

Our feet support our body’s weight when we are standing and absorb force when we move. These functions are largely handled by the arch of the foot. It works like a shock absorber to handle the impact of walking, running and jumping. The arch is supported by muscles as well as fascia and ligaments, which are connective tissues. Keeping these muscles strong enhances function in the arch and reduces the chance of injury.

Heel Raise Exercise

Although there are many good exercises for the feet and lower leg, one exercise is particularly effective at improving foot strength because it brings several positive benefits together. It is the heel raise with a ball between the heels. Here’s how to do it properly:

  • Stand near a wall or stationary object to hold for balance.
  • Start with your feet parallel and the ball between your heels. Make sure the ball is on the floor between the bones of the heels and not between the ankles.
  • Spread your toes, then lift your heels up from the floor.
  • As you lift, push your toes into the floor and your heels into the ball.
  • When you reach the end of the heel lift, tuck your heels under the ball.

Using a ball with a tacky surface is best, since it will be easier to hold in place than a tennis ball. I recommend using a lacrosse ball for this exercise. If you try this exercise, start with one series of 10 repetitions daily. Once that becomes easy, try a series of two or three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, on three to four days of the week.

Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.