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Triathlon Success: Foot Fitness

Foot and ankle injuries are the number one problem in the sport of triathalon.  The thousands of spins on the bike, impacts on the run, and kicks with the swim can take a toll.  Some preventative training can help speed tissue recovery in your feet and safeguard the ankles.

The foot and ankle are made up of twenty-six bones that are controlled by an elaborate combination of intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles.  A web of fascia interconnected to the muscles creates a dynamic sling that gives our foot form and acts as a spring to propel   the body through space.  Our feet evolved to guide us over an ever-changing environment of varying surface with minimal support from footwear.  Modern footwear, deconditioning, and prior injuries can all take a toll on the functional mobility and strength of the foot and ankle.  Preventative exercise activities can go a long way to prevent painful injuries in the lower leg and foot.  Watch the video and give these activities a try.

Foot Wave

You can perform this exercise throughout the day and it will help keep your feet healthy and strong.  Point the foot (plantarflex the ankle) and flex all of the toes.  Draw the foot up (dorsiflex the ankle) and keep the toes flexed.  Extend the toes while keeping the foot pulled upward.  Point the foot downward while keeping the toes extended.  Keep the foot pointed and flex the toes.  Move through this exercise in a steady and deliberate fashion.  Take time to feel the muscles activate and stretch in the foot and lower leg.  Repeat the “foot wave” for five to ten repetitions.

Short Foot Drill

The muscles on the bottom of the foot are called the foot intrinsics.  The foot intrinsics function in a manner similar to the core muscles of the torso.  Their job is to brace the foot so it can transfer forces through a stabilized series of boney arches.  Weak or slow to respond foot intrinsic muscles impede the foot’s capacity to decelerate forces.  The short foot drill will improve foot intrinsic muscle performance.

To perform the short foot drill on the right foot, place the right foot flat on the ground and place the left foot back.  Bend the right knee about 20 degrees and lift the left heel off the ground so more weight is on your right foot.  Lift and spread the toes of the right foot.  Lower the toes back to the ground and grip the floor with the big toe.  Contract the muscles on the bottom of the foot.  You should feel a lifting of the foot arches.  Tighten the muscles of the right leg from the calf to the hip and lift the pelvic floor.  Hold this tension in the foot and leg for ten seconds and then release.  Perform five repetitions.

Soft Tissue Mobilization

Treat the soft tissue structures of the ankle and foot with a consistent program of massage.  Three or four times a week, take five minutes and perform some massage stick work to the muscles of the lower leg.  Find a tennis ball and roll out the plantar aspect of the foot.  Deep soft tissue work helps improve circulation, prevents aberrant scar tissue formation, and promotes tissue elasticity.

Cryotherapy

Age brings lower leg arthritic changes and circulatory deficiencies.  These can create pooling of inflammatory byproducts in the feet and ankles created by a week of triathalon training activity.  Cooling the feet and ankles in an ice bath can help break the chemical cycle of inflammation and enhance recovery.  At the end of a training day, fill up a bucket with water and lots of ice.  I like to get most of my lower leg under the water.  Try fifteen to twenty minutes every other day.

Watch our Foot Fitness video for demonstration of these exercises: View Foot Fitness Video

Kat Wood, DPT, ATC

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