How to Lift Weights with Plantar Fasciitis

Nothing ruins your workout routine quite like an injury. 

If you've been doing crossfit, powerlifting, or any other sort of weight training, you may start to notice some pain from an unexpected place: your feet. 

But it's a common occurrence, and here's what you need to know about it: 

Is Weightlifting Bad for Your Feet?

Gym injuries happen. Sure, you can avoid them by sitting on your couch all day. But that's not what bodies are for, are they?  Further, deconditioning actually increases the risk of injury.

Repeated impacts of any sort can irritate the plantar fascia ligament that runs along the bottom of your foot. These impacts could be anything from repeated steps from jogging to heavy pressure from squatting.

Typically, the impacts cause micro-injuries such as miniscule tears to the plantar fascia. Also, some gym habits can cause the foot’s arch to flatten, a condition known as collapsed arches or flat-footedness, which can be a precursor to plantar fasciitis. This shape change can be temporary but with enough damage to the right ligaments and tendons, it may be a long-term problem.

But how do you know if you have plantar fasciitis, and not something else? The condition is often confused with bone spurs, heel spurs, Morton's neuroma, and other foot ailments. But no matter what you have, good foot care and exercise will often have a noticeable effect on the pain. (However, if you believe that you have a serious injury please seek professional advice.)

Can You Continue to Work Out With Plantar Fasciitis?

It's difficult to give a definitive answer here, since every case is different.

In general, if you're suffering from plantar fasciitis, it may be a good idea to give your feet a break for a while for pure symptom relief.

However, a 2015 report published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science found that high-load strength training improves outcomes in patients with plantar fasciitis. Of the 48 participants in the trial, those that underwent high-load strength training with corrective shoe inserts showed more signs of faster recovery. 

In any case, keep this bit of medical wisdom in mind: the human body responds well to use; it does not respond well to disuse. 

Leg Lifting With Plantar Fasciitis: A Brief Technical Analysis 

Often, gym goers who have heavy leg exercises in regular rotation tend to encounter plantar fasciitis more commonly. Even worse, the collapsed arches that can facilitate plantar fasciitis will not only weaken your lifts, but will also create risks of injury for the knee, hip, and back, according to fitness blog EliteFts.com. 

This occurs because a shallow-arched foot can throw  the ankle, knee, and hip out of alignment. The flat foot kicks the heel out laterally, causing pronation and a rotated tibia. As a result, the whole lift is thrown out of whack, especially under very heavy loads. 

Under these conditions, correcting the over pronation and heel position through exercises or inserts is extremely important, and in many cases can be accomplished without a big break in the exercise routine.

It might even put some power back into your lift. 

What to Do if You're Lifting With Plantar Fasciitis

The good news is that you may not have to stop your routine if you're experience foot pain. That's a big "if" especially if your pain is severe, but in any case these tactics will help you recover:

  • Add foot/lower leg workouts to your rotation. Leg day, chest day . . . feet day? It's an overlooked but important focus. Try a range of motion exercise by holding a resistance band under your foot and moving it against the tension. This will promote healthy foot arches which deter plantar fasciitis. 
  • Stretch it out. Make sure your feet and calves are part of your stretch routine. For a quick calf stretch, try standing on a slant board for a few minutes if you have one, or take a resistance band or towel and do some towel stretches
  • Check your insoles. For flat footed fitness fans, the right insoles can make all the difference. Your best bet is to seek professional medical evaluation for the precise insert to improve your performance.
  • Rest if you need to. Or at least lay off the lower body exercises if pain persists; focus some rowing, swimming, or body exercises while you heal. 

Finishing Strong

No pain, no gain, right? Well, probably not where plantar fasciitis is concerned. If your feet are hurting, then that's probably a sign that something's wrong. 

Start treating your feet like another muscle group to work out, just like the triceps or chest. Get some good insoles, and make sure your other footwear isn't causing any problems, too.