Barefoot running is a hot topic in running circles these days. Even if you have no intention of ever parting with your cushy soles, you'll still benefit from shoeless strength training. Barefoot training develops the muscles of the toes, midfoot, heel, and ankle—26 muscles in all—that get a free ride in kicks. "Foot muscles can atrophy if you're in shoes all day long," says Stephen Pribut, a podiatrist in Washington, D.C. Strengthening your feet and ankles enables the rest of your running parts—knees, hips, and back—to function their best and reduce injury risk. So after you run, slip off your shoes and socks and do a few simple exercises—calf raises, jumping jacks, balance on one foot—to warm up. Then try this barefoot training routine recommended by Pribut.
WOBBLE BOARD BALANCE
Works feet, shins, calves; prevents shinsplints, Achilles strain
Place both feet on the board. Rock forward and back. Work up to 30 seconds of continuous wobbling. Take a break. Then rock side to side (above). Work up to 30 seconds. When this feels easy, combine these exercises to move the board in a circular motion.
Strengthens the foot; protects against shinsplints and plantar fasciitis; improves push-off power
Either sitting or standing, place a small towel on the floor in front of you. Using the toes of one foot, gather the towel, gradually pulling it toward you. Repeat three times with each foot.
Strengthens feet, legs, glutes; improves balance; protects against ankle sprains, shinsplints, and Achilles strain
Lift one leg and try to keep it straight. Keeping your torso upright, slowly squat down. Rise back up. Start with eight to 12, and work up to 20. Too hard? Start with double-legged squats.
ONE-FOOT HOPS—WITH A TWIST
Strengthens feet and lower legs; improves balance
Hop on one foot. With each jump, face forward, and point your grounded foot to the left , forward, to the right, forward, left , forward, right, and so on. Do 15 to 20 hops per foot.
div class=breaker-ad article-breaker-ad standard-article-breaker-ad mobile-breaker-ad> Place five to 10 small objects in front of you. Lift each one with the toes of one foot. Take the object and release it, forming another pile. Switch feet and move the pile back. Do three sets with each foot.