By Anna Boden

How often do you strengthen your feet? Often our attention is focused on being strong and robust around the hips and pelvis.

However, the foot alone is thought to contribute up to 17% of the energy required to power push-off (Kelly et al., 2019).

Spending some time looking at foot function could be rewarding in terms of improved balance, power production, and energy efficiency.

Energy storage utilises elasticity like a spring coiling and recoiling which can make us more powerful and efficient.

The foot balances this role with providing a stiff, rigid lever to push-off of the ground during walking and running.

Intrinsic plantar foot muscles. Credit: McKeon et al., 2014

It is not only the passive structures (think bones and aponeurosis) that support the arch, but also the intrinsic muscles that assist with maintaining arch height when under load (Farris et al., 2019).

Furthermore, a loss of intrinsic muscle strength has been found to reduce power during push-off in late stance, and increase compensatory power required from the hip muscles (Kelly et al., 2014).

So how do we assess and target these muscles? There are many small muscles which make up the many layers of the bottom of the foot:

Abductor Hallucis, Flexor Digitorum Brevis, Quadratus Plantae, Abductor Digiti Minimi, and the Lumbricals just to name a few.

Here are some examples of some exercises (Gooding et al., 2016) to increase activation of these foot intrinsic muscles:

If you would like to make sure your feet are functioning at their best, contact us at Saunders Physiotherapy.


  • Farris, Dominic & Kelly, Luke & Cresswell, Andrew & Lichtwark, Glen. (2019). The functional importance of human foot muscles for bipedal locomotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116. 201812820. 10.1073/pnas.1812820116.
  • Gooding, T. M., Feger, M. A., Hart, J. M., & Hertel, J. (2016). Intrinsic Foot Muscle Activation During Specific Exercises: A T2 Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Journal of athletic training, 51(8), 644–650.
  • Kelly LA, Cresswell AG, Racinais S, Whiteley R, Lichtwark G. Intrinsic foot muscles have the capacity to control deformation of the longitudinal arch. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface. 2014 Apr;11(93):20131188. DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2013.1188