Feet are the athlete's most frequently injured anatomical feature. Without even counting the ramifications for the legs, hips, and back, there are some 3,000 things which can go wrong down there. Overuse injuries such as stress fractures, shinsplints, Achilles tendonitis, and the like are especially debilitating.
At the same time, strong feet are important for pedalling, as well as such common cross-training sports as rowing and running. Ankling adds greatly to pedalling power output, and is only as useful as the muscles are strong and can endure. Strong and supple muscles will absorb a foot's impact, whereas weak muscles will leave the stress to smaller muscles and bones in the foot.
Conditioning the feet means working more than just the muscles found in the shoe. The hamstrings, calves, and their siblings in the legs are all connected to the heels by powerful tendons. Lisa Schoene, a noted trainer and podiatrist for professional athletes, points out: "You can't think of your feet as separate entities. They're like puppets, and all of the muscles in your legs are pulling their strings."
These exercises will strengthen and stretch the relevant muscles to improve performance and reduce injury involving the foot. Perform but the last in bare feet.
The Mountain. This stretch is demanding of both the hamstrings and calves. Stand with your feet apart at the width of your hip, keeping your legs straight, but not locked. Now, fold at the waist and put your palms on the floor about three feet ahead of your feet; closer if you're flexible. Finally, push your heels to the ground and drop your head, holding this position for 30 seconds. Repeat twice.
Calf Stretch. Sit on the floor with both legs extended and your back straight. Loop a rope around one foot, and flex the foot toward you, using the cord for gentle assistance at the far point of the stretch. Hold it for four seconds, then release. Repeat 12 times with each leg.
Toe Squash. By placing your weight on the tops of your feet, this stretches the muscles within. Kneel with the tops of your feet flat against the floor. Place your palms against the ground, around your knees to start but farther forward to increase the weight. Sit back on your feet, use your hands to push the knees up off the floor, and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat twice.
Inch Worm. Sit in a chair, with a towel spread out in front on one foot. Using only your toes, scrunch up your toes and pull the towel towards the chair. When you reach the end of the towel, reverse the process to push the towel out. Repeat sets of twelve repetitions with each foot three times.
Ankles Away. Sit on something high enough that your legs dangle, and tie an exercise band around the tops of your feet (in that order!). Tie the band tighter to make the exercise harder. Keeping your heels together, spread your forefeet, then relax them. Next, tie the band around your actual feet, with your ankles crossed. Push each foot in turn out to the side, then relax. Repeat both exercises 10 times.
Toe Raise. This exercise is great for building the muscles for powerful and enduring ankling in the pedal stroke. Wearing shoes and standing at a table for balance, slowly raise up on the toes. Balance on the toes at the top of the cycle, not just on the ball of the foot. Slowly ease yourself down, and work up to a set of 100 repetitions. Just do this one once.