Everyone knows that a structure built on a weak foundation is not sturdy, but most people don’t realize this principle applies to the human body. Weak feet and ankles create instability, leading to poor posture and slow movements. Performing exercises to make feet stronger and more flexible will enhance sports performance, improve balance, increase range of motion, and reduce risk of injury.
Flexibility and range of motion in the ankle joint and the muscles of the calf, feet, and toes are crucial for ease of movement and injury prevention. One of the simplest ways to stretch the muscles in the lower leg and feet is a variation of the sit and reach exercise.
Start by getting a towel and then sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Lean forward and place the middle of the towel on the balls of your feet. Sit up tall and make sure your legs are completely straight before pulling the towel toward you. This should cause you to feel a stretch in the back of your heels and calves. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before taking a short break, and then repeat.
If leg flexibility is noticeably different, try stretching only one leg at a time. You may do the stretch with one or both legs twice a day unless otherwise directed by a doctor.
Range of Motion Exercises
Range of motion refers to how much movement you can get in your joints in all directions. Some joints have a small range of motion, such as the joints in your toes, while others, like your hips, have a much larger range of motion.
The first ROM exercise to do is called toe spreading. It is exactly what it sounds like. Sit down and place both feet flat on the floor. Then, spread your toes outward as far as they can go. Bring them back to the starting position and then repeat. Start with 10 repetitions and later try two sets of 10.
Another toe exercise that improves ROM is the toe lifts. This exercise also takes a good deal of concentration and dexterity. While seated, place feet flat on the floor. Then, try to lift just your big toes off the floor. Your other toes should not move. Go down the line lifting one toe on each foot. Repeat twice.
Another ROM exercise for the ankles is the alphabet exercise. While seated hold your right foot in the air and imagine that you’re writing out the alphabet with your big toe. Go through each letter and then repeat with your left foot.
Most everyone has done ankle circles once or twice in their lives, but this is an exercise you should do daily. While standing or seated, hold your right foot comfortably in the air and then circle your foot in a clockwise direction. After 10 circles, switch to rotating in a counterclockwise direction. Repeat with your left foot.
Because the feet and ankles don’t exactly bulk up, people don’t usually consider doing strengthening exercises for them. But there are many muscles in the feet that do important actions, such as pointing your toes or gripping the surface when you walk.
An easy exercise that strengthens your feet and toes is called towel grabs. Find a hand towel and drop it on the floor in front of a chair. Remove your shoes. Sit down and place both feet on the towel. Then, curl your toes to pull the towel toward you. Repeat twice. You can make this exercise harder by placing a paperweight on the opposite end of the towel.
Next, stand up and rise onto the balls of your feet. Try walking for 20 seconds without letting your heels touch the floor. Give yourself a short rest and repeat once more. As you get stronger, try walking on the balls of your feet for more time.
To strengthen your feet and ankles in the opposite manner, try walking on your heels for 20 seconds. Extend the time as the exercise gets easier.
Unlike most strength training routines that require days off to allow your muscles to rest, these feet and ankle exercises can be done twice a day every day. If you have problems with your feet or ankles, such as a previous injury or abnormality, check with your chiropractor first.
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