Strengthening Your Feet



In the past couple years the “barefoot” training movement has exploded. A majority of the shoe companies today have minimalistic or “barefoot” products. It comes from the idea that we are not meant to wear shoes all day, every day, from the time when we start to walk. The modern, Westernized shoe wearer tends to have weak and limited use of their feet compared to people and cultures that tend to go barefoot. We see dramatically higher rates of bunions, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles and a host of other conditions of the feet and ankles. Shoes essentially give the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints of our feet a break. Imagine if you wore mittens on your hands all day and every day since infancy. You probably wouldn’t have half the fine motor skills you possess today. Looking at the feet, most people can’t even move their pinkie toes independently, an ability barefoot people acquire early and naturally.

Most sports and everyday activities require contact with the ground and our feet are the first link in the kinetic chain. If the foot is not able to fully handle the forces required of it, overtime different structures will be stressed and start to cause issues. The exercise below is designed to strengthen a muscle called your quadratus plantae.


The quadratus plantae is the muscle that lies underneath the plantar fascia and can provide strength and support to the foot when strong and conditioned. It also can aid by increasing blood flow to the bottom of the foot which can help in removing metabolic wastes that accumulate in conditions such as plantar fasciitis.
Begin by simultaneously drawing the top of the foot towards your shin (dorsiflexion) while flexing your toes down (like you’re trying to grip something.


Then flex the top of the foot away (plantar flexion) while simultaneously pulling the toes back and outwards.


Repeat as many times as you can and then switch feet. When first learning this exercise, it is common to have the foot feel like it wants to cramp. You may also find it difficult to perform the movement. This is from the weakness of the foot muscles. Keep working on the movement and try adding reps each day. Perform one set of maximum repetitions and build up to 50 repetitions.

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Using a Foam Roller


The foam roller is a great tool for soothing sore muscles and for stretching your muscles before exercising. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage, break up trigger points, and soothe tight muscles while increasing blood flow and circulation. Perform the following moves before and after exercising.

1. Quad Massage

Quad Massage with Foam Roller

Start with both of your thighs on the roller at the same time. Roll back and forth from your knees to hips. To increase the pressure, lift one thigh off the roller and lean into the roller with the leg on the roller. Roll for 60 seconds

2. Hamstring Massage

hamstring massage with foam roller

Start with both of your hamstrings on the roller at the same time. Put your hands behind you on the floor for support. Roll back and forth from your knees to hips. To increase the pressure, lift one thigh off the roller and lean into the roller with the leg on the roller. Roll for 60 seconds.

3. IT Band Massage


IT Band massage with foam roller

Lie sideways with the foam roller under the side of your thigh. Roll between your knee and your hip bone. Spend extra time on the more tender areas you encounter. Roll for 60 seconds. Repeat with your other leg.

4. Gluteal Muscle/Piriformis Massage

Gluteal Muscle / Piriformis Massage with foam roller

Sit with your buttocks on top of a foam roll. Bend your knees, and then cross the right leg so that the right ankle is over the left knee. Shift your weight to your right side, rolling over the buttocks until you feel the tension in your glute. Then repeat on the other side.

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Thoracic Spine Stretches


Pain in the thoracic spine is a very common complaint.  However, issues with the midback tend to be less severe than neck, shoulder and low back pain and it often receives less attention than it deserves.  Mobility and posture issues with the thoracic spine can contribute to low back pain along with neck and shoulder problems.  The truth is, as a whole, our society is spending more and more time sitting than our bodies were intended to.  The following exercises are designed to help with posture and to give the thoracic spine more mobility.

1.  Foam Roll for Thoracic Spine Extension

spine1Place the round foam roll horizontally on the floor just below your shoulder blades.  Support your head in your hands and lay back over the foam roll and keep your knees bent.  Next, roll your spine backwards over the foam roll.  You can slightly lift your hips and pelvis off the floor.  Avoid letting your head fall back too far.  Perform for about 30 secondsRepeat 2 times per day.

2.  Quadruped Extension and Rotation


Start on your hands and knees.  Place your left hand on the back of your head.  Then touch your left elbow to your right forearm.  Next, bring the left elbow back and behind you as you rotate and extend through your upper back.  Try pulling your left shoulder blade towards your spine as you lift the elbow up.  Perform ten repetitions on each side.

3.  Foam Roller

spine3This exercise will have the biggest effect if done consistently.  Sit back on the foam roll place vertically under the full length of your back.  Have your head and neck supported on roll.  Bend your knees with your feet on the floor.  Start with your arms at your sides and then progressively raise them overhead over the course of 15 minutes.  This exercise takes considerable time, but your posture can greatly benefit from it.

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Stretches and Exercises for Runners



Whether you are an avid runner or a seasonal runner, these stretches will help stretch and strengthen areas that tend get tight due to running.  Perform these movements after you run and again on your days off.

1.  Ankle and Calf

Ankle and Calf stretch

Place the balls of feet on a step and let the heel of one foot fall towards the ground.  Hold for 30 seconds. Do 2 times each calf.

2.  Psoas/Hip Flexor Stretch

Hip Flexor stretch

Stand 6” away from a wall with your back facing the wall. Lean left shin with pointed foot on the wall. Stand tall and keep upper body parallel to the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, do 2 times.

3.  Glute Bridge Exercise

Glute bridge exercise

Lie on the floor, arms at your sides, knees bent, and heels on the floor (1). Lift your hips with knees, hips, and shoulders forming a straight line (2). Hold 2 seconds, then return to start. Do 10 times.

4.  IT Band Massage with Foam Roller

IT band massage with Foam Roller

Lie sideways with the foam roller under the side of your thigh. Roll between your knee and your hip bone. Roll for 60 seconds. Repeat with other leg.

5.  Glute Medius

Glute Medius

Lie on your side. Lean your whole body forward 45 degrees and rotate your top foot so that the toes are touching the heel of your bottom foot. Lift your heal 4 inches off the ground and then lower back down. Do 25 reps.

6. Quads


Lie on your left side with your left hip flexed and thigh pulled up towards chest. Grab right foot with right hand.  Contract your abdominals and pull on foot to feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh.  Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

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Increasing Hip Mobility


Often our IT Bands can become tight due to active exercises, such as running, cycling, court sports, and climbing. Follow these exercises to stretch and strengthen your IT Bands.


#1 – Foam Roll IT Band

De Franco's Agile 8 : Foam Roll IT Band
Start just below your hip and roll up & down to your mid-(outer) thigh 10-15X, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform 10-15 “rolls” starting at your mid-(outer) thigh and rolling all the way down to the outside of your knee. Again, focus on the tight areas.

#2 – Foam Roll Adductors 

De Franco's Agile 8 : Foam Roll Adductors
Start just below the crease of your hip and roll up & down to your mid (inner) thigh 10-15X, focusing on any tight spots. Then perform 10-15 “rolls” starting at your mid-(inner) thigh and rolling down to the inside of your knee. Again, focus on the tight spots.

#3 – Glute/Piriformis Myofacial release w/ static stretch

Joe DeFrancos Agile Eight : Glute/Piriformis Myofacial release w/ static stretch
Start with using a foam roller. Advanced: use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball.


#4 – Rollovers into “V” sits

DeFranco's Agile 8 :  Rollovers into “V” sits
Perform 10 reps. Be careful for this is an advanced trainee exercise. If you experience any discomfort with this exercise, discontinue immediately.

#5 – Fire hydrant circles

DeFranco's Agile 8 : Fire hydrant circles
Start on all fours and circle one leg backwards, to the side, forwards and then back down. Do 10 forward circles and repeat with other leg. Then repeat by starting in the opposite direction. (10 forward circles each leg and then 10 backward circles each way for a total of 40 reps)

#6 – Mountain climbers

DeFranco's Agile 8: #6 - Mountain climbers –
Start in a pushup position. Jump your right knee to your chest and landing gently with the balls of your foot. Then in one motion, jump your right foot back while bringing your left knee up towards your chest. Perform 20 with each leg.

#7 – Groiners

DeFranco's Agile 8: #7 – Groiners position 1 DeFranco's Agile 8: #7 – Groiners position 2
Starting position is the same as the pushup on your toes. Now jump both legs at the same time and have both feet land next to your hands. When you land, try to have your heels down. Next step is jump the legs back to starting position. Make sure that your core is tight to prevent you lower back caving in.

Perform 10 reps and hold the last rep for 10 seconds while you press your knees out with your upper arms and allowing your butt to drop down.

#8 – Static hip flexor stretch

DeFranco's Agile 8: Static hip flexor stretch
Perform 3 sets of 10 seconds each leg. Perform all 3 sets on one leg before moving onto the other leg.

Download Joe DeFranco’s Agile Eight for Increasing Hip Mobility

Stretching and Strengthening Your IT Band


IT Band

This month’s moves are designed to stretch and strengthen your IT Band (Iliotibial Band) and TFL (Tenor Fasciae Latae).  The tensor fasciae latae attaches at the top of the side of the hip bone, traveling down the side of the hip into the iliotibial band which runs down the side of the thigh connecting to the outside of the shin bone.


IT Band

Start just above your knee and roll up and down to the outside of your hip 10-15 times, focusing on any tight spots. This will help to ease tension out of the lateral quad, IT band and TFL.


IT Band

Start by lying on your side and then gently pull the top ankle back towards your buttocks until you feel a stretch.  Slowly lower this knee to the ground and then place the ankle of the bottom leg on the knee of the top leg.  This will help pull the knee towards the ground to stretch the end of the IT band.  Do not stretch too hard for you could irritate the area if it is already inflamed.  Perform 2 sets of 30 seconds on each side.  Be careful to not over extend your low back during this exercise.


IT Band

Researchers have found that distance runners who develop IT Band Syndrome have significantly weaker hip abductors (specifically the gluteus medius and minimus).  What’s more, improvement in symptoms occurred as the runners increased the strength of these muscles.  These important hip abductors function to keep better alignment of the knee and keeping less tension on the IT band.  Below are some exercises to incorporate into your training program.

Glute Medius Training – Side-Lying Leg Lift

  • Purpose: to strengthen the gluteus medius (side of your butt) in order to help stabilize the knee.
  • Lean your whole body forward 45 degrees and rotate your top foot so that the toes are touching the heel of your bottom foot.
  • Lift your heel 4-6 inches off the ground and then lower back down.
  • Start with 2 sets of 20-25 reps for each leg.
  • Work up to 2 sets of 50 reps
  • Then add 5 lb. ankle weight

Hamstring Strengthening – Hip Lift

IT Band

The Hip Lift is a great exercise to isolate and strengthen the hamstrings.  It is also very functional by its nature.  It trains the hamstrings to stabilize the knee while extending the hip.  The knee will be non-weight bearing during this exercise.  This will allow the knee to be spared until the hamstring and the rest of the posterior stabilization mechanism is strengthened.

  • Begin by laying on the ground with the knees bent 90 degrees with the feet on a chair.
  • Press your heels into the chair, contracting your hamstrings, and lift your hips about four inches off the ground (approximately the size of your fist).
  • Next, reverse the motion so that the back returns to the floor.  Do not relax completely.
  • The pace of the exercise should be two seconds up, one second pause at the top, and two seconds down.

Make sure the feet are pointed up and the knees are shoulder width apart.  Perform 2 sets of as many reps as possible.  When you are able to do two sets of 30 repetitions, we will switch to using a single-leg for 2 sets of maximum reps.

Download Stretching and Strenthening Your IT Band