During a cardio workout, your feet are like your BFF: always there for you. In fact, it’s easy to take healthy feet for granted. Whether you’re pushing yourself during a speedy run, starting an elliptical workout routine, or going for long walks in the summer sun, it’s crucial to give your feet the care and attention they deserve. Here’s how to protect them during cardio and choose the right shoes for your workout.
Remember to stretch your feet!
While fitness buffs may consistently think to stretch their hamstrings, fitness coach Nadia Murdock says people often overlook feet as a body part that can benefit from stretching. “You will be surprised to learn there are stretches you can do that stretch the feet,” she clarifies. “A simple way to get started is to get a tennis ball and roll it underneath the soles of your feet. This will help to relieve tension in the foot, and excellent if you are experiencing plantar fasciitis, making it much less likely to become irritated.”
“Simply exercising or doing cardio will not strengthen feet,” warns Dr. Emily Splichal, a world-renowned Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist. “Foot-specific exercises need to be done to strengthen the feet. Barefoot exercises and balance exercises are some of the best ways to keep the feet strong. For instance, there are a few yoga moves that will give your feet a solid workout. A good one for beginners is Mountain Pose, where you stand equally on both feet and distribute your weight evenly. Start to lift all of the toes up while keeping the rest of the foot on the mat.”
Wear the right shoe for your workout.
“Our feet are the foundation to our body,” says Dr. Splichal. “Strong feet mean a strong body. Our feet are connected to our core and glutes which means that we actually get more out of our workouts if we are strong from the ground up. Taking care of your feet means keeping them flexible and strong, and wearing the right shoes for your workout.”
“Like any other body part in order to achieve the optimal performance, you need to care for your feet,” says Murdock. “The repetitive impact that comes with cardio requires the right footwear. Wearing improper shoes can lead to a multitude of issues including plantar fasciitis, arch spasms, heel spurs, and tendonitis.”
Murdock recommends choosing a shoe for a specific workout so you can avoid injury and protect your feet. “If you take your workouts seriously then your athletic footwear and socks should reflect that,” she says. “With so many options out there today it’s not always an easy selection, but try not to make the shoe a multi-tasking shoe. For example, a running shoe is not the same as a sneaker used for weight lifting.”
Dr. Splichal says the best shoes for working out are those that allow for optimal movement. “This is offered through footwear with minimal cushion and support. Almost all foot types are able to tolerate working out with minimal shoes if the proper foot flexibility and strengthening is also done,” she notes.
Know your foot size and type.
Murdock suggests visiting a running shoe store to see if they offer free measuring. This can help you get familiar with your foot size. “Over time, our feet change and tend to get wider,” she explains. “If you have had children, your feet may have even gone up a size. Getting your feet measured is key and the easiest way to know your true foot size.”
Also, figure out whether or not you have a flat foot versus a high arch. Murdock says this allows you to get the support you need for your activity and pick the right shoe with a proper mix of cushioning for stability.
Rest your feet in between high-impact exercises.
According to Dr. Splichal, the best way to avoid foot-related injury in the first place is to be mindful about how often you put what she calls “excessive impact forces” to your feet, and balancing that with foot recovery and foot-specific exercises.
Murdock tells her clients to switch up their cardio workouts with low-impact exercises like yoga and remember to listen to their bodies. “Know your limits!” Murdock said. “If your feet start to hurt, pull back or opt for a modification. The more you work out on an injured foot, the longer it will take to heal. This will put your fitness goals even further behind. Not only will this delay the healing process but it can also make the injury worse.”
Keep your feet dry and clean during exercise.
Even if you do your best to keep feet safe, you also want to keep them clean to avoid bacterial viruses, fungus (which can lead to athlete’s foot), or plain old stinky feet syndrome. Wearing flip-flops or a waterproof sandal when you shower or rinse off after a workout at a public locker room is essential.
Other tips: dry your feet thoroughly after showering with a clean towel, and consider using an antifungal foot powder if you frequently shower at the gym. Check your feet for cuts, blisters, spots, or bruises on a regular basis, and keep your toenails cut. Finally, wear clean socks daily, which seems obvious (and if you sweat quite a bit during your workouts, look for moisture-wicking socks).
Don’t ignore aches and pains.
Murdock says it’s easy for people to hurt their feet during cardio, especially if you are new to working out or wearing the wrong shoe.
“Cardio workouts involve a lot of impact and pounding placed on the feet, and without the proper support, you can definitely feel a few aches and pains that will naturally get worse over time if not addressed,” she shares. “If you start to feel pain, then you should stop the workout. You may think sticking it out makes you stronger but you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not only will your foot be throbbing but you won’t be able to complete the workout the way you would—with healthy feet.”