I have always loved feet. I love being barefoot. I love all the fantastic things I can do with my feet. Feet are at the end of us and full of many nerve endings, many muscles, joints, and bones. Feet are at the beginning of our posture. This is a collection of massage techniques and exercises designed to promote the health of the feet. The exercises fall into different categories: massage, foot, ankle and toe strengthening (foot exercises), and exercises to support leg positioning and the posture in general.
These videos can be used by Pilates practitioners and anyone wanting more information about how to create better health and strength for the foundation of their posture or to improve their chosen exercise forms. These videos also can be used by Pilates and movement teachers as a visual reference for teaching or sharing with students.
You can do one or all of these exercises, but don’t overdo it. You might try a couple out of each section and rotate which ones you do each week. They are numbered too, so you could do one for a week, the next the next week and work your way up the numbers. You could do a massage and then an exercise. But, I repeat, don’t over do it. Do a few repetitions and then do the next exercise. Aim to spend 5 to 15 minutes-but not just on one exercise. Less is better, especially when it comes to building up ability in the feet. It takes gentleness and time. Posture is developed and practiced over the course of a lifetime.
The sort of improvement you can expect from these exercises is better range of motion, stronger feet, more endurance in standing, improvement in the arches, more agility, and a sense of well being. If you have toes that cross, they might start to separate and move better. You might gain height.
The massage exercises are to warm up the muscles and joints to prepare for exercise and to improve circulation. The other exercises are for range of motion and strengthening. Please make sure that you do these exercises in conjunction with your usual exercise routines. These are not meant to be done as a solo practice.
A word of warning, that when we start to improve the positioning of the feet, it can affect positioning up the chain of posture. This may be good, or it may be hard on the system. For instance, let’s say you have a problem in the hip, perhaps the foot has adapted to that problem and is no longer in a “normal” position. If we rearrange the foot to a more normal position, there is the potential for aggravating the problem in the hip that the foot was trying to accommodate. Also, if you massage very deeply, you could be irritating the nerve endings and connective tissues at the low end of the body, so please massage with a light to moderate touch. If you feel pain from any of these exercises or massages, stop immediately, and seek professional medical advise.
As we unwrap the story of our feet, so we unwrap the story of our whole body and other issues and old injuries can surface, or more likely resurface. I am keenly aware that we are wrapped in layers. The physical layers–muscle fibers, fascia, bone, scar tissue, skin. The layers of the years of our lives and experiences, and the layers of our emotional being. I am reminded that each individual’s exercise program should have a portion tailored to them specifically, a general program can only go so far in its usefulness. Each body is different. Each body is amazing.
All of these exercises are links to the video instructions. Click on the pink words to view the video tutorials on youtube.
Massage for Feet
Start with a massage to warm up tissue and increase circulation.
- Massage Top of the Foot, “cleaning the gutters” 4-5 x’s between each set of metatarsals
- Massage Bottom of the Foot, rub from the heel to the ball of the foot, from inside of the arch to the outside and back, 5-8 x’s across
- Big Toe Manipulation/Mobilization, use fingers to gently stretch big toes outward, 4-8 x’s
- Massage the Heels, like you?re turning a door knob. 4 x’s each heel.
- Gentle Toe Stretch Fascia Massage, 2 x?s each way, each toe, first focus on front and back, second focus on sides.
- Whirly-Gig Toe Massage, make sure to hold at base of toes not ends of toes, 4-5 x’s each set of toes, both feet
- Massage the Ball of the Foot similarly, 4 x’s each
- Shin Massage, 5-8 x’s each shin
- Calf Massage, 5-10 x’s each calf
Some of these exercises take a lot of mind/body control. If something is extremely difficult at first, try it a little bit every day. Have a good laugh if it hard!
- Point and Flex, Full Point, only 4 x’s
- Point and Flex, Half Point Variations, 8 x’s each variation, each foot
- Curl In, Curl Out, Horizontal at the ankle, curl on the inward turn and spread on the outward turn, and then the opposite, with the toes curling on the outward turn and the spread on the inward. 2 x’s each variation.
- Curl In, Curl Out, Pronating and Supinating at the ankle, curl on the inward turn and spread on the outward turn, and then the opposite, with the toes curling on the outward turn and the spread on the inward. 2 x’s each variation.
- Rotate the Ankles, just at the ankles, then add in whole leg, 4-8 x’s each variation, each direction
- Arch lifts, 4-8 x’s each foot. Can do together or separably. Then add a Kegel contraction, 2 x’s with Kegel on inhale, 2 x’s with Kegel on exhale
- Big Toe Kiss, feet flat on floor, small space between feet, big toes reach towards each other, 8 x’s, can do feet separately or at same time.
- Big Toes Squeeze Together, feet flat on floor, small space between feet, bring all toes together without curling toes under, 8 x’s.Aim towards keeping ball of foot and toes in a line/plane with each other.
- Toe Ripple, all toes lift or peel up in a ripple or wave. Articulate from the big toe to the little toe, then place down with big toe, second toe, etc. 2 x’s, then begin with the little toe, 2 x’s. Both feet.
- Toe Strengthening Presses. Finger on tip of toe push toe downward with a little resistance from finger. Don’t let the knuckles fold backwards. With the big toe, also press up into finger on front of toe. 2 x’s, each toe, each foot.
These are exercises to support your legs and spine, further up the chain of posture.
- Standing Wall Roll Down, with squishy ball. Don’t lock knees. Gently squeeze ball on the way down and up, 5-8 x’s. First variation, add arch lift, on the way up. Second variation, still add arch lift, add in Kegel contraction, 2 x’s on inhale, 2 x’s on exhale.
- Inner thigh lift
- Variation 1: Bottom leg lifts up to hovering top leg variation only, 16 each leg
- Variation 2: Do four inner thigh lifts.Then four circles with the bottom leg each direction. Keep the body in a straight line with the hips stacked, belly tucked in, and the waist engaged. Then do that with the top leg. 4 lifts. 4 circles each way.
- Variation 3: Top leg lifts four times, leave it up. Bottom leg lifts four times, leave it up. Top leg circles, four times each way. Bottom leg circles four times each way. Leave bottom leg lifting (hovering), lift top leg from there. First four parallel. Then four turned out. Then alternate leg positioning (up parallel, down turned out then up turned out up and parallel down) a total of four times of those.
- Kapalabhati Breathing, one set slow, one set faster.
Bonus: Pilates Equipment Exercises
If you have access to Pilates equipment before or after your class or lesson, you can try these exercises to supplement your foot strengthening.
- Foot Corrector
- Half Ball or Foot Wakers
- Hoof on the CoreAlign
- Roll down and up, try it standing on the Spine Corrector
- Leg Springs on Springboard or Tower, long purple (heavy) or long yellow (light) springs with foot loop, on level 3 or 4, double leg lowers 4 x’s, circles 4 x’s each way
- Mat Leg Work, double leg lowers 4 x’s, circles 4 x’s each way
Parting words about your feet
I realized, that many people are fight an uphill battle with exercising consistently–and indeed all Pilates and physical training. We come to the class, we do our exercises at the studio and at home, we work hard to have good physical awareness, and then we go right back to the situations that helped create our weak feet and unhappy postures. We wear the terrible shoes (are you wearing the “cute” shoes to work?). We don’t walk enough. We drive. We walk on man-made surfaces (or worse run and jump). Even emotional triggers can cause us to repeat bad habits unaware–slouching, stressing. External pressures, advertising, shopping, wanting to fit in with our family and friends, and overexposure to bad options reinforce all of our body habits. It’s very difficult to change those habits. We are not even aware that we are counter-training as soon as we walk out of the studio.
To have a clean break, to give ourselves lasting positive physical change, we have to figure out how to change what our external circumstances will allow as well. Maybe research smart shoe options. Be aware of what cement and over-exercising does to our joints and bodies. We cannot isolate the work of the foot, the work of the back, the PT for our carpal tunnel, then get back in the same old shoes, car, computer desk and expect to be able to handle the situations that train the positioning that hurts us.
All this is normal. Our bodies are adaptable. Our minds and hearts are too. This has been the great key to our hominid, two legged success and can be yours too.