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Exercises for the Sole

by Emily Gindle » on Jan 09, 2011 1

My feet are not terribly well-behaved.  A coworker who’s a really talented boot fitter was somewhat amazed at how mobile my feet are and how much they pronate–meaning that when they’re holding up the rest of me, my arches flatten a lot and my ankles sink in.  My talented coworker recommended some very supportive insoles to hold up my plantar architecture, and I admit they felt very nice.  I ended up going in the opposite direction, picking up some Fivefingers shoes and thereafter wearing them every day.  My talented coworker did not agree with this decision.

Leaving my feet to their own devices has had some great benefits.  My feet still pronate, but I can feel it when they do, and I wiggle them around and do some exercises to strengthen them.  Where my feet used to hurt from carting me around all day, now they’re strong enough to fend for themselves.  Here’s a short list of the kind of foot play I do in a typical day:

1.  Walk around like I’m in the woods.  This probably looks crazy, but when my feet need a little shaking up after walking around on flat concrete floors at work, I like to pretend I’m walking around on rocks.  I step way on the outside of my feet, or way on the inside, on the heel, on the ball, on the toes.  It helps make the floor feel not quite so flat.

2.  Tip-toe around like a ballerina.  Especially when I haven’t been paying attention to my arches and they start to ache, I like to reset those muscles by tip-toeing around.  It feels great because it activates all those muscles on the sole of the foot, and gives a little calf workout to boot.

3.  Calf stretch against counters and walls.  Stretching the calves helps to keep plantar fascia flexible too, so propping my toes up on something vertical and leaning over them feels really good for calves and feet.

4.  Spread the toes!  Why else would we wear shoes with five toes if not to do this?  It strengthens all those muscles running along the tendons to each toe, improves balance and flexibility on all those individual piggies.

5.  Squat stretch.  Or at least that’s what I’ll call this variation that I made up.  This one is a bit more contrived, but it’s great for people like me with very flexible and collapsible arches.  I get into as deep a squat as possible with my feet parallel and as close together as they can get.  For me, this means my feet are parallel and almost touching, but I’m pretty flexible; a lot of people have to have their feet hip distance or so to get into a deep squat.  In this position, I concentrate on lifting my arches, and more specifically on flexing the muscle that runs along the shin, eventually connecting to the arch.  I believe this is the tibialus posterior, but I’m no anatomist; in any case, knowing that a muscle in my calf connected to the bones in my arch was really helpful in figuring out how to flex the arch up.  I lift my arches while pressing the pad and joint of my big toe firmly down.  The squat helps keep the pelvis and knees lined up and isolates the calf muscles.  Holding this position while I read a couple of paragraphs or even pages of a book, say, has made my feet a lot stronger.

Of course, this is just what I do while at work or at home.  My feet take a beating in all the other activities I do–running, hiking with a heavy pack, weight lifting–and all those things play a major part in keeping my feet conditioned.  I can tell when I my feet haven’t had enough activity, because that’s finally when they hurt.

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