Joe Nimble

Are your feet stopping you getting fit in the gym?

Many resolve to begin the new year with a new fitness regime. A gym membership is purchased and training begins with gusto. Too often, efforts are stalled by pain and injury, good intentions are unfulfilled, and drop-out rates are a staggering 50% (Dishman, 1988). Conventional ‘wisdom’ of gym-based training emphasises the development of upper and lower-body strength. Free weights, multi-plane movements and high-intensity Cross-fit-type training have become popular. The force demands of such training are high, and injury and pain can result if forces are not directed and controlled through a stable interface with the ground (Vorobiev, 1999).

The foot is the only interface with the ground during walking, running and most dynamic movement patterns of modern gym workouts, yet it is rarely considered in training theory or practice (Wilson and Kiely, 2016). Balance (Chou et al., 2009; Tanaka et al., 1996) and ankle flexibility (Lubetzky and Kramer, 2015) are impaired when foot structure and function are poor. Both are risk factors for injury, particularly as force and range of movement requirements increase with intensity and speed. A dysfunctional foot leads directly to injury risk through misdirected force, and to exercise-related pain via overworked compensatory muscle activity (you might be interested in this post about functional feet).

Feet are deformed by loading over time in narrow shoes (Munteau et al, 2017). Conversely, feet are fixed by loading over time in shoes with space for them to adapt and spread (Knowles, 1953). So, before you invest in a gym membership, invest in your feet so you can train safely and pain free and be Nimble for life.


  • Chou S, Cheng HY, Chen JH, Ju YY, Lin YC, Wong MK: The role of the great toe in balance performance. J Orthop Res 27: 549-554, 2009.
  • Dishman, RK. Exercise adherence: Its impact on public health. Champaign: Human Kinetics Books; 1988.
  • Knowles FW: Effects of shoes on foot form: An anatomical experiment. Med J Aust 1: 579-581, 1953.
  • Lubetzky, AV and Kramer, PA. The association between foot morphology and dynamic balance performance as measured by the star excursion balance test. J Exerc Sports Orthop 2: 1-7, 2015.
  • Munteanu, SE, Menz, HB, Wark, JD, Christie, JJ, Scurrah, KJ, Bui, M, Erbas, B, Hopper, JL, Wluka, AE. Hallux valgus, by nature or nurture? A twin study. Arth Care Res. doi 10.1002/acr.23154. 2017.
  • Tanaka T, Hashimoto N, Nakata M, Ito T, Ino S, Ifukube T: Analysis of toe pressures under the foot while dynamic standing on one foot in healthy subjects. J Orth & Sports Phys Ther 23: 188-193, 1996.
  • Vorobiev, G. Evolution of injuries in athletics. New Stud Ath 4: 23-26, 1999.
  • Wilson, J and Kiely, J. The multifunctional foot in athletic movement: Extraordinary feats by our extraordinary feet. Hum Mov 17: 15-20, 2016.


Tags: science, activity, foot, foot function, fitness, injury