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Feet Health: How To Strengthen & Stretch Your Feet

Your feet are the foundation for almost all movement. Keeping each foot healthy is important for improved posture and movement.

Your feet are the foundation for almost all movement. But most of the time they're stuck in inflexible footwear and tend to be forgotten in our self-care routines. Keeping each foot mobile, strong, and flexible is important for improved posture and movement.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Our feet are some of the most complex parts of our body — 26 bones, 19 muscles and three arches.
Sensory Awareness & Mobility

Walking barefoot in public isn't really an option due to safety and health concerns. But exercising barefoot in the safety of your own home is a great start building foot strength and flexibility. 

Exercise 1:

  • Start barefoot, from a seated position.
  • Enjoy the sensation of the floor below your feet — notice if the surface is hard, soft, warm or cold.
  • Lift your feet and circle your ankles 3-5 times in each direction.
  • Point the feet up and flex feet down 3-5 times.
  • Wiggle your toes and spread your toes wide apart.

Note: Walking meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness and notice the full range of motion used when you walk. Walk by landing the foot with a heel strike, then allow the sole of the foot to make full contact with the floor and push off with the ball of the foot. Repeat on both feet for as long as you like.

Foot Strength

To build foot strength, you need to activate the intrinsic foot muscles — especially inside and outside (the medial and lateral) arches of the foot. This takes a lot of practice and awareness. Experiencing some cramping in the foot is normal and should dissipate as the foot gets stronger.

Exercise 1: Short Foot

Credit Cynthia Akey
The short foot exercise can be a real challenge for the brain to activate the four corners of the foot.

This exercise helps to stabilize the arches in your feet and exercise your nervous system to help control your bones and joints as you walk or run.

  • Start from a seated position.
  • Keeping the foot in contact with the floor, lift or extend the toes (the arch of your foot will contract and become active).
  • With the arch lifted, press downward into the floor at the four corners of the foot: the ball of the big toe (first metatarsal), the ball of the smallest toe (fifth metatarsal), inner heel and outer heel.
  • Release and lower the toes while maintaining maintain the arch. Hold for 5-10 seconds and relax. Repeat on each foot 10 times.

Exercise 2: Independent Toe Lift

Credit Cynthia Akey
The independent toe lift is definitely an exercise that you want to do while barefoot.

This exercise improves your level of foot mobility while gaining better control of your toes and arch of your foot.

  • Start from a seated position with your foot in contact with the floor.
  • Lift or extend just your big toe while keeping your other toes on the floor.
  • Switch and lift your four toes while your big toe says on the floor.
  • Repeat 10 times on each foot.

Foot Flexibility

Stretching your feet is a great way to make them feel better, experience less foot pain and prevent injuries. Note: You may require padding from a blanket or towel for these stretches.

Exercise 1: Top of Foot Stretch

  • Start from a seated position.
  • Lift your foot and curl the toes under.
  • Gently press knuckles of your toes into the floor to stretch the top of the foot and the ankle joint. Hold for 5-10 seconds (1-2 breaths).
  • Release and repeat on the other foot.
  • Repeat 1-3 times on each foot.

Exercise 2: Arch Stretch

  • Start from a seated position.
  • With foot flat on the floor, lift the heel pressing the ball of your foot downward (flexing the toes) and lift the heel higher. Hold for 5-10 seconds (1-2 breaths)
  • Release and repeat 1-3 times on each foot

Editor's note: Don't ignore pain. You shouldn't feel pain during an exercise or movement. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have any pain while exercising.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Cynthia Akey is a health, fitness and wellness professional. She has over 15 years of experience teaching and coaching stiff and aching individuals who want to live healthier lives.
Lucien Jung is a Milwaukee-based video and radio producer. His research in the IP-based distribution of multimedia has been presented at the Broadcast Education Association’s annual conference as well as the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. Lucien is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications master’s program in Television-Radio-Film.