Foot and ankle exercises. Coming from a dance background, I have a slight obsession with my feet and ankles and how they work. It’s a little strange, but when you have someone yelling at you to point your toes or giving you endless strengthening exercises then it just becomes an important part of your life. While this may not seem like the “sexiest” of topics (yes I admit, I’d much rather be reading about how to get flatter abs) bear with me because your feet really are your foundation. You spend all day standing on them, some of you jam them into high heels others spend hours pounding the pavement.
FOOT AND ANKLE EXERCISES
WHY. Whenever I try to explain the importance of having strong feet, I use myself as the perfect example. I was lucky enough to be born with flat-ish feet and over the years, I’ve developed bunions (that bulge at the side of your big toe). Now, for many people, that means a lifetime of knee and back pain, but because I’ve spent years strengthening and stretching my feet those problems don’t affect me at all.
WHAT. There are a lot of muscles and bones that make up your ankles and feet and if they aren’t working together then it can be a debilitating problem. If you have ever had super tight calf muscles or any kind of foot pain then you know badly it can affect your day. Muscles: gastrocnemius/soleus (calf muscles), anterior tibialis (shin), posterior tibialis, peroneus longus & brevis, dorsiflexors, plantar flexors, invertors and evertors.
Pick up a towel. Place a small towel on the floor and with your bare foot, practice picking up the towel and then pushing it away. Do this 5-10 minutes a day and be prepared that you might get some foot cramps in the process. A great remedy is to roll your foot out on a tennis or golf ball.
Point and flex. Channel that ballet dancer in you. This exercise is best done with a stretch band (Theraband). Place the band over your foot. Gently pull on the band to create some resistance and then point and flex your foot slowly. Try spreading your toes and really focus on working through your whole foot. Do this 15-20 times on each foot.
Balance. Having wobbly ankles is the worst. I’m sure everyone has had a moment when they are walking down the street and you step wrong and you roll your ankle. This happens to everyone, but if you have strong ankles then it’s much less likely that you will injure yourself. When working out your ankles, you want to think of two things: 1) keeping them flexible, you need them to have mobility, and 2) keeping them strong. A great way to achieve both is to perform balancing exercises. Simply stand on one foot while you lift the other one off the floor. Once you get proficient at balancing for 10-15 seconds, try bending and straightening your standing leg. Once this becomes easy, upgrade to an uneven surface (hint, this is great for your core as well). A trick to working on this exercise is to do it barefoot, while focusing on spreading your toes and feeling that your whole foot is evenly pressing into the floor. As a warm up, include gentle ankle circles for a few minutes.
Calf raises. Think like a dancer. Standing tall with your feet hip width apart and toes pointing forward, slowly rise up to the balls of your feet and lower. Do this 20 times. Make sure that you are focusing on working through your whole foot and keeping your weight centered. Watch that you aren’t rolling to the outside of your feet. After 15 repetitions, do this with your feet turned out. Simply place your feet together, rock back onto your heels and let your toes open naturally to the side so they form a V shape. Repeat the calf raises in this position.
I believe that exercise and more importantly, flexibility and strength, are a solution to many of our physical ailments. It doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours in the gym or be a super athlete, what it really means is that you need to keep working those muscles, because if you don’t use it you will lose it!
When you workout, do you ever do foot specific workouts?