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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Foot Fitness Tips: A Simple Point and Flex Exercise for Healthy, Pain-Free Feet

Are you walking with sore feet? Running with weak ankles? Dancing with tired toes? Cycling with stiff calves? Find yourself stuck all day sitting behind a desk with knee or back pain? Discover easy ways to start alleviating all these little aches and pains with a few quick and easy foot-care stretching and strengthening exercises.

The different ways we use, or misuse, our feet can create annoying foot and ankle problems and be a contributing factor other aches, pains, and injuries. If you're dealing with an acute injury, be sure to get things checked out and consult with your doctor, and orthopedic specialist, or podiatrist as a precaution before you do anything.

If you've been cleared to exercise, it may be time to find new strategies and solutions to keep you healthy and keep your poor tired, achy feet out of trouble. Perhaps it may be time to pay a little more attention to your ankles, arches and toes on a regular basis during your workouts. With even a short 5-10 minutes of dedicated foot fitness training there is a lot you can do to start helping your feet feel better.

Tendons, ligaments, fascia, muscle and bone are all connected. This network of support for our structure has to be in balance for us to enjoy healthy, pain-free movement. Ligaments connect bone to bone, tendons connect muscle to bone, fascia is the supportive matrix for muscle and muscles move bones.


What Happens When You Have Stiff, Tight, Inflexible Ankles, Arches, and Toes

When the foot and calf muscles are too tight, movement is restricted and more stress is placed on muscle, fascia and tendons which can contribute to Achilles tendon problems, heel pain and plantar fasciitis, just to name a few annoying foot problems.

The result of not enough stretching and poor flexibility... Restricted mobility. Muscles that are too tight may one day "accidentally" get stretched farther than they can comfortably go and - rip, tear, strain and voilĂ  an injury!

The Challenges of Dealing with Weak Feet and Ankles

If muscles are weak, especially along the soles of the feet, there is a good chance that as soon as we start to contract a foot muscle it will cramp or lock up in a spasm! Muscle cramps prevent us from wanting to engage our muscles, so we avoid movement with the ankle, foot or toes that might cause the muscles to cramp. The result of never contracting a muscle... It will get weaker and weaker, and will cramp quicker and more severely if you do anything that requires its use!

How can you balance the work of the muscles along the soles of the feet with an effective stretch to keep the calves, arches, heels and ankles happy?

Here is a very simple point and flex foot and ankle exercise that can help you enjoy healthy feet and improve both strength and flexibility! Use these helpful tips to effectively stretch the calves to keep your calves, heels, and plantar fascia happy AND strengthen the soles of the feet to keep your arches lifted and reduce or eliminate foot cramps.

Foot Fitness for Healthy Feet - Point & Flex Exercise

You can practice pointing and flexing your feet in any position, seated, lying down, both legs at the same time, one leg at a time or with the help of a Yoga strap or theraband. There are lots of options for variety and to help challenge and target all the muscles of your feet, ankles, and legs.

To start, I recommend doing a Seated Point & Flex exercise.

    Start in an L-Sit position. (If you're hips and hamstrings are tight sit up on a box or phone book to be able to achieve a tall back position. You can even sit on a box with your back supported against a wall!)
    Keeping the legs straight, but not locked, reach both heels out away from your body to "Flex" or "hinge" the ankles. Try to avoid pulling the toes back to flex the foot. Keep the toes relaxed and lead from the heel to hinge the foot into the flexed position.
    Hold the flexed foot position and breathe. Take 3-5 breaths and see if on every exhale you can reach farther out through the heel to deepen the flex (and get a better stretch).
    To transition to the pointed position, begin by moving from the ankle to hinge the foot as far as possible in the other direction.
    Once the ankle has reached its endpoint, use the muscles along the sole of the foot to point the toes. (Like a ballerina.) Inhale to continue lengthening out through the top of the foot, exhale to deepen the contraction under the sole of the foot to point the toes more. Take 3-5 breaths.
    Release the toes, and begin reaching out through the heel to hinge the ankle into the flexed position and repeat the exercise.
    Continue to alternate between the flex and the point for 5-10 repetitions.

Use this Point & Flex exercise as a warm-up, or after a workout as a cool-down stretch. You can also apply this Healthy Movement Habits™ strategy anytime you are doing exercises that involve flexing and pointing the foot.

Helpful Healthy Movement Habit Hints for Flexing the Foot:

    There is a difference between flexing the foot by leading with the toes pulling back, and flexing the foot by reaching out through the heel. Be sure to hinge by leading with the heel to lengthen and stretch the calf, Achilles and arch of the foot.
    The less the toes pull back, and the less the front of the ankle "grips" the freer the hinge will be and the better stretch you'll achieve.
    Watch your foot alignment; be sure the big and little toe sides of your foot pull back evenly for good ankle alignment while you are moving.

Helpful Healthy Movement Habit Hints for Pointing the Foot:

    When you point, strive to lead by lengthening the top of the arch and foot out and away from the body. Avoid pointing by pulling the heel back towards you.
    When you point the toes, feel the muscles under the front of the arch move the toes, and continue to limit the amount of "pulling" to point that you feel with the heel.
    Maintain proper foot alignment; be sure from the toes to the ankle, to the knee that everything is lined up correctly to ensure you are using the right muscles to do the work.

While it may seem like an incredibly simple exercise to just point and flex the foot, paying attention to the fine-tuning your muscle firing habits and the finer points of good movement habits will ensure you are getting all the benefits you need from this easy, but effective foot fitness exercise.

And if you happen to be practicing your point and flex foot fitness exercise and are getting a calf stretch but also can feel a stretch along the back of your thigh (this would be the Hamstring muscles) it is even more important to be doubling up your efforts to practice this foot and ankle exercise daily to help improve your flexibility to keep your feet, legs, hips, and back healthy.

Stiff ankles, and tight calves can lead to lower back problems. Incorporating pointing and flexing exercises for your feet into your weekly workouts is a great way to help your feet feel better, help you enjoy better health for your lower back, and keep you feeling fit with better posture all the way up to the top of your head!

By training good functional movement of the foot and avoiding "bad" habits to point and flex, you can reduce the risk of foot and ankle injuries, alleviate chronic foot pain problems, and ensure that you are properly stretching and strengthening ankle, heel and arches to keep your feet and whole body 100% healthy.

Aliesa George, PMA-CPT is the founder of Centerworks® and creator of the Healthy Movement Habits™ Training and Mentorship programs. For more than 20 years, Aliesa has been helping her clients improve their mind-body connection for better strength, flexibility, and fitness for an active, injury-free lifestyle. Good health doesn't happen by accident! To improve health & fitness it takes the right action to get the right results. Aliesa has helped transform thousands of lives by sharing her expertise, tips, techniques, and wellness success strategies through her online courses, live events & training programs, books, products, and educational learning resources. Specializing in foot-fitness, functional movement, and Pilates she assists clients in integrating her Intentional Movement Training Systems™ strategies for whole body health through the development of healthy movement habits into everything from sports, fitness, and daily life activities.



8 comments:

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