Prevent plantar fasciitis, stop shin splints, and soothe all-around foot pain by strengthening your tootsies with doctor-recommended exercises

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When you plan a workout, you probably think about hitting all your major muscles. But you might be ignoring one super-crucial group: the little muscles in your foot that control how it works. And whether you walk, run, or swim, you need those muscles to be strong to work out properly, says sports medicine doctor Jordan Metzl, M.D., author of Dr. Jordan Metzl's Running Strong.

Weak feet get achy, tired and hurt… making you scale back on your workout before the rest of you (lungs, legs, etc.) feels ready to quit, says Metzl. And if you have shin pain, shin splints, or plantar fasciitis, you should definitely be paying more attention to your tootsies.

If this sounds like you, some foot strengthening is in order. But since you can't exactly lift barbells with your toes, Metzl suggests these two moves to his patients:

1. Take off your shoes. When you're at home, walk around barefoot as much as possible. Sounds simple enough, but Metzl says this will help build up your muscles without any extra work.

2. Play marbles. If you've got a foot injury, this one is especially helpful for rebuilding strength. Take a bag of marbles and spill them out on the floor. Then, using your toes, pick them up one at a time and drop them in jar. Keep going until you get tired, repeat every day, and within a couple of weeks you'll make significant strength gains.

As for your other workouts, Metzl says there's no need to take a break while building up foot strength, with one exception: If the pain changes the way you run, ease off until you can get proper form back.