Yoga Exercises to Strengthen the Feet & AnklesFeb 22, 2020
For the modern human, our feet don’t have to be strong because we’ve outsourced that job to our shoes.
Furthermore, most of us don’t need to do movements like running, jumping, hopping, swimming, etc for survival. If our days don’t require any of those movements, why would we do them?
Well, if we want strong, well-adapted feet, those are precisely the things we need to be doing. And when we don’t do those things over periods of weeks, months and years, we find ourselves in pain and poorly adapted to do movements out of the ordinary.
It’s like the old adage goes: If we don’t use it, we lose it.
If you find that you’ve been neglecting the powerhouses of your feet, or that your feet and ankles are in pain from a lack of well-balanced movement, it’s time to start using them again. Running, jumping and hopping may very well be in your future, but there are smaller places to start that are more accessible.
Our feet are built like springs. A triangle of arches on the sole provides the architecture necessary to push and pull with our feet. When barefoot, we’re theoretically capable of scrunching a towel under our foot and flattening it back out.
In general, a strong foot is well-developed through those arches so it can distribute force deliberately up the chain of our body.
Here are some general lifestyle tips for restoring the spring-like quality to the triangle of arches under the foot:
Go barefoot more often.
Move your feet and ankles through a full range of motion everyday.
Do things you haven’t done before - our tissues thrive with variability.
Walk 2+ miles a day, over rough terrain if you can.
Wear shoes without heels, with enough space for the toes. [Vivobarefoot shoes are my current favorite - no I am not an affiliate with them :)]
Yoga for Feet & Ankles
At this point, I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years. I didn’t have many complaints about my feet or ankles prior to starting yoga, but I’ve noticed that with a daily practice, my feet and ankles tend to feel pretty great most of the time.
So in a very general sense, taking up a consistent yoga practice will likely help your feet adapt and become stronger. One benefit is that we practice yoga barefoot, which gives our feet a chance to be, well, feet. Another benefit is that the practice moves our feet and ankles through a pretty substantial range of motion.
There are ways to spice up our yoga practice to target our feet and ankles more deliberately. There are lots of nuances in the ways we can use our feet, which we’ll get into now.
Exercises to Strengthen the Feet
Our foot is made up of 26 bones and 33 joints. This means there are 33 places where our foot can possibly move. And if we want to strengthen our feet, the best practice is to move them through their entire range of motion in ways that are increasingly challenging (this concept is called progressive loading and is definitely worth taking a look at if you’re not familiar).
Here’s a look at the different movements of the toes and feet:
The big toe can move independently from all other toes
Toes can flex and extend as a group
The pinky toe can stretch away from the big toe, and the big toe can stretch away from the pinky
The sole of the foot can scrunch and stretch
The foot can bounce, and eventually hop and run
The foot can be tasked with pivoting to change direction quickly
All of these exercises will do wonders to strengthen the feet and improve the brain’s mapping of the feet and ankles. This, in turn, will allow us to do things that may have previously been off limits, or at the very least, positively impact our experience of foot pain.
Exercises to Strengthen the Ankles
The ankle is comprised of three bones that come together to make one joint. You can see your two shin bones coming down to create the ankle with the knobby bones on either side of the joint. They sit on top of the heel bone to create a joint that is capable of four movements: dorsiflexion (toes toward shin), plantar flexion (toes pointed away from shin), inverting (rolling to the inside), everting (rolling to the outside). Together, these joint positions create a somewhat circular movement, powered by muscular strength in the calf and shin.
It’s good practice to move the ankle through its full range of motion everyday. As we become stronger, we can start loading those various ankle positions with more of our body weight and eventually even more external load, so that our ankles are well-adapted to support us in all movement scenarios.
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