Don’t Forget the Feet: 5 Exercises to Build Strength, Stability and Mobility

Contributor: Jessica Luibrand
Photographer: Madison Cline
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Our feet are usually the last thing we think of when it comes to self-care and rewarding our bodies for the support they give us to pursue our ambitions day in and day out. In fact, I have plenty of friends for whom a little self-care involves a night out on the town—in heels. Sure, there’s our hair, nails, and skin to take care of, but our feet are also a vital part of our anatomy. And feet that function well make for a happy legs, hips, and spines.

Because we spend such a vast amount of time with our feet bound in shoes—and even worse in heels—the smaller muscles in our feet tend to be weak and inexpressive. We may have strong ankles, but the intrinsic muscles are vital to successfully pointing our foot or pushing off in a jump.

 
 

Before we move any further, let’s touch on a basic bit of movement anatomy. The feet have 26 relatively small bones and 33 joints. The sole is shaped like a slightly irregular rectangle with three main points of stabilization: the ball of the big toe, the ball of the pinkie toe, and the heel.

As we move at a walking pace, the heel strikes down slightly on the outer portion. The weight then shifts to the inside of the ball of the foot as our entire foot is in contact with the ground. As the heel lifts, the weight will again roll to the outside edge (pinkie toe side) and this allows the foot to lift the weight off the ground and gives a spiral to the heel and ankle. The ball mount of the big toe will be the last to leave contact with the ground, and the foot will return to a less spiraled position once it is no longer bearing weight. The process repeats itself with each step, so basic and repetitious it requires little to no awareness.  It’s worth noting that what was described is the ideal way a foot should absorb and position body weight while walking. Keep this in mind for later.

Give a little self-care to your feet with these exercises designed to awaken the smaller muscles for more movement and stability. Before beginning, choose one foot to focus on first. Complete each exercise 10-15 times. Then stand on both feet, walk around (recalling the spiraling motion discussed earlier), notice a difference? Then complete the exercises on the opposite foot.

  1. With the sole of the foot on the floor, plant your finger on the outside of the big toe. Now, try to push the finger away with the big toe. The big toe should slide away from the other toes. Keep the sole of the foot on the ground. Attempt the same action by placing your finger on the outside of the pinkie toe.
  2. Spread the big toe and the pinkie toe away from one another at the same time, creating a fan-like motion with the toes. Try wrapping an elastic band around the toes for added resistance in this exercise.
  3. Practice doming the foot. Imagine a center point in your foot where the foot does not touch the ground between the arch and the ball of the foot. Try lifting this part of the foot a little closer to the ceiling without curling or gripping with the toes—the working muscles are in the sole of the foot.
  4. Calf raises will help with lengthening the muscles and stretching tendons in the back of the heel. They also aid with balance. Make sure the center of the knee stays in line with the third toe as you lift and lower the heels. For an added stretch, stand on a slightly elevated and secure surface so that your heels can drop below the balls of the feet. 
  5. Sit down and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Take your right hand and weave your fingers between your toes. Now in a circular motion, rotate your ankle in one direction 10 times, and then switch directions for another 10 rotations.

It’s surprising how such a little noticed and oft forgotten body part can make such a big difference in our overall well-being. Next time you’re celebrating an accomplishment—in heels—out on the town, remember to practice a little self-care afterwards for those fabulous feet who carry you towards your daily goals and dreams.