It’s All about the Feet

How is 2021 going for you so far? I hope it’s off to a great start! I know a lot of you have set step goals for yourselves this year. That is fantastic in any year, but even more important this year since many of us are still sheltering in place and gyms are still closed. However, if you go from not walking much to regularly hitting 10,000+ steps a day, you might start to experience some soreness and stiffness. As with any sport, it is important to start your walking, running or hiking routine gradually. Ramping up too quickly can leave you more prone to injury. It is also a good idea to incorporate stretching and mobility exercises into your routine.  

Regular mobility exercises can help protect you from injury. Mobility is defined as the “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion”. In other words, the better prepared your joints are to move actively, the less likely you will be to get injured. This holds true at every phase of your fitness journey. Even seasoned athletes can get sore feet if they do not pay proper attention to stretching and mobility.

You may be wondering how you can prepare your feet to take you where you want to go. I’m so glad you asked! Here are some great mobility exercises that will help get (and keep!) your feet ready to go the distance:

TOE PICKUPS

For this exercise, you can use pens, pencils, marbles, pebbles, golf balls, or other similarly-sized items. Sit or stand with the items at your feet. Use your toes to pick up each item and then put it back down. Then repeat with the other foot. Notice if this exercise is easier with one foot compared with the other.

FOOT ROLLOUT

Stand or sit with your feet flat on the ground. Place a golf ball, lacrosse ball or tennis ball in the center of the arch of your foot. Slowly move your foot forward and back and side to side using the ball to massage the bottom of your foot.  Do not be afraid to put a substantial amount of weight on your foot while doing this exercise.  The ball may want to slide out from under your arch, but do not let it. Then, do the same thing on the ball of the foot. Let your toes hang over the ball and then slowly roll from side to side crossing over every part of the foot. This helps the bones in your toes and midfoot become more mobile. Change sides and repeat.

CALF STRETCH

Tight calves affect how your feet move and are a common cause of plantar faciitis (pain the bottom of your foot).

Stand within reach of a wall or chair for balance and place a thick-rolled towel (or a cushion) on the floor in front of you. Step onto the towel with a bare foot, placing the ball of the foot on the top of the towel and keeping your heel on the floor. Make sure your foot is pointing forward and slowly straighten your stretching leg. Keeping your body upright (try not to lean forward with your torso), step forward with the opposite foot. The tighter your lower leg, the harder it is to step in front of your stretching leg.

If you find you need to lean forward, bend your knees, or you lose your balance while doing this exercise, shorten your stepping distance. If you want to make the stretch more difficult, use a foam roller or yoga block (or a thick book) instead of the towel.

DRAW THE ALPHABET WITH YOUR BIG TOE

Trace the entire alphabet with your big toe, then repeat on the other side. You can do this exercise sitting in a chair, on the floor, or lying down. For extra credit, you can do both the uppercase and lowercase alphabets.

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