Put a little “Spring” in Your Step to Strengthen Your Feet
The muscles of our feet are designed somewhat like springs. If our arches are strong and working well, there is a spring effect that we can work with to be “light on our feet,” improve balance, and more easily transfer our weight from leg to leg to propel our bodies forward through space to walk and run. Our "springs" also work when we jump UP to move vertically if we’re playing sports like basketball, volley ball, dance, or gymnastics. The image of Tigger in Winnie the Poo just popped into my mind! How great does it feel to have a smile on your face, and a little “spring” in your step. As kids, we run, jump, hop, skip and play! But as we get older it seems these normal physical activities seem to fade and become distant memories of things we used to do, but aren’t in our vocabulary any longer. Too many hours sitting behind a desk, poor shoe choices and lack of time spent maintaining the strength and flexibility of our feet, ankles, calves, hamstrings and perhaps whole-body. Challenges to our good health that occur as a result of weak feet and poorly supported arches are flat feet, ankles rolled in, or rolled out, heel pain, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and many other foot pain problems. A factor in whether we’re able to keep our feet healthy and pain-free can be how well we’re using and strengthening the soles of the feet. Our arches are just that ARCHES, they should be lifted (like a little mouse-house) under the sole of the feet. When I was a teenager, a big part of why I had foot pain and ankle problems was because my feet were flat. My arch muscles were weak and poorly developed even though I was running, jumping and doing gymnastics and dance, the muscles of my feet weren’t really doing their job to support me! I didn’t know how to use my feet… Fast forward 40 + years, and I now have an ARCH! Since the arches of our feet are muscles, they are something that can be strengthened, lifted and improved, just like every other part of the body. If you’re willing to put in a little time and effort you can keep your arches in shape for that lovely little “spring” in your step! When new Pilates clients get started, a lot of the time they experience foot cramps with all the pointing and flexing we do with the feet during a workout. For many of these clients, this is something they had issues with before they started; it just becomes more obvious to them as they’re doing their workouts when they have to stop what they’re doing and walk off a “cramp.” Generally speaking here’s what I notice: People who have foot cramps typically have stiff ankles and weak feet. (And many also have very tight hamstrings!) When the foot cramps, all they want to do is relax it. (And they would be happiest not to ever do any type of exercise or activity that might cause it to cramp again!) But the problem with the “avoid using it to keep it from cramping” theory is that by never using the muscles along the sole of the foot, the arches will continue to get weaker and the ankles and toes stiffe, which will send you farther in the wrong direction for healthy and happy feet! We’ve got to use the feet, ankles, arches and toes to strengthen the arches, ankles and toes! I know this sounds redundant – but it’s the truth. Your core muscles won’t get stronger without working them, so how do you expect your arches to stay lifted without doing some targeted strengthening for your feet? Orthotics are a handy crutch for lifted arches from outside your body, and there will be some changes in how the muscles of your feet work with this assistance, but isn’t it better idea to improve your support from the inside by actually strengthening the muscles of your arches so that your own muscle tone helps to keep them lifted! There are so many great ways you can work on improving the strength and flexibility of your feet! If you’re healthy and fit; running, hopping, skipping and jumping rope can all be great activities not only for strengthening your feet but you’ll get in some good cardio exercise too. There are lots of simple exercises in the Fantastic Feet book. The Terrific Toe Series and all the different variations of Pointing & Flexing the feet can help you start strengthening the soles of your feet without any additional stress or impact. If you’re a Pilates student – all the Reformer exercises where you point and flex – Footwork, Running, Stomach Massage, and so many other exercises give you the opportunity to be non-weight bearing but work against the resistance of the springs is wonderful! A great thing to progress to is using the Jump board on the Reformer! With the Jump board, you can practice your “rebounding” and foot/arch strengthening with a little impact, but not quite as much as full weight-bearing yet. And if you’re looking for something not quite as intense as jumping/hopping on the floor, a rebounder trampoline can be a nice piece of equipment for home-training to work on footwork and jumping to strengthen your feet. Some people prefer to teach exercises with a “relaxed foot.” It’s a choice… I’m a fan of an active foot! Whether your feet are pointed or flexed, or perhaps you’re using a monkey toe, prehensile grip with your toes. To strengthen and lift the arches – active feet will help keep the muscles along the soles of the feet strong, fit, and flexible. Keep a little spring in your step, and maintain strong, lifted arches by actively training your ankles, arches, and toes during your weekly workouts. Pick the level of activity that’s appropriate for you to get started, and add a few extra exercises into your workouts to help activate and lift your arches to keep your feet healthy.