Do you suffer from foot cramps, fallen arches, or more generalized tired, achy feet? A little ballet may go a long way toward overcoming common foot discomforts. In fact, bringing a little twinkle to your toes can help all your joints feel more comfortable from the ground up!
Although your little piggies may be primped and painted, the feet are often neglected when it comes to fitness. Many of us rely on high tech athletic shoes or insoles for support. But the assumption that the right pair of shoes will fix everything obscures a major underlying cause of foot discomfort: weak muscles.
What’s more, the integrity and use of the feet drastically affects the alignment of the knees, hips, and pelvis. So no matter how strong the rest of your body may be, weak feet and ankles can seriously impair comfort, stamina, movement quality, and activity levels.
And as comfy as contemporary shoe technology may be, it does nothing to strengthen arches, toes, or ankles. In fact, by taking away the natural work of the foot, supportive shoes may actually make you more susceptible to foot discomfort!
Ballet is one of the very few activities that specifically works the feet and ankles. Ballet slippers (you can also wear socks) provide a thin layer that lets the feet glide along the floor while still allowing them to do all the work of support. Ballet teaches how to point the toes and use the feet against the floor to develop foot and ankle strength, dexterity, and flexibility. Beyond relieving discomfort, bringing muscular strength and integrity to the feet also helps the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, and spine stay properly aligned and comfortable.
Try the following “Ballet Foot Fix” to start feeling better (and lighter!) on your own two feet! (NOTE: It’s very common to experience minor cramping in the beginning. This will go away soon! If your foot cramps, do the Foot Stretches and then try the exercises again, modifying down to fewer reps.)
Seated Foot Exercise
1. Sit up straight on the front edge of a chair (don’t lean against the backrest). Knees face forward with feet flat on the floor (toes forward) and separated approximately hips distance. You can hold onto the sides of the seat.
2. Alternate lifting the heel of each foot, pressing onto the ball. Be careful to keep the ankle aligned by pressing through the second toe (the one next to the big toe) of each foot. Repeat for a total of 16 “presses”.
3. Now lift the heel and press through the ball of the foot, pushing off to point the toes. The toes will come off the floor 2-3 inches. Return the ball of the foot to the floor and then lower the heel. Alternate sides for a total of 16 “points”.
4. Now brush one foot forward and point the toes. (You don’t need to straighten the knee.) Brush the foot back to the starting position with the heel on the ground. Repeat for a total of 8 “brushes” and then do the other side. Remember to brush through the second toe to keep the ankle aligned.
Standing Foot Exercise
Stand facing the back of a chair and hold onto the backrest for support. Place heels together and gently turn out the toes (to approximately a 90 degree angle–DO NOT turn out too much!). This is 1st position.
1. Alternate lifting the heel of each foot, pressing onto the ball. Be careful to keep the ankle aligned by pressing through the second toe (the one next to the big toe) of each foot. Repeat for a total of 16 “presses”. Be careful to keep the ankle aligned by pressing through the second toe each time.
2. Now lift the heel and press through the ball of the foot, pushing off to point the toes and keeping the knee open. The toes will come off the floor 2-3 inches. Return the ball of the foot to the floor and lower the heel. Do a total of 8 on one side then change sides for another 8 repetitions for a total of 16 “points”. Press through the second toe each time.
3. Now brush one foot along the floor beside you and point the toes. The toes will come off the floor 2-3 inches. (Try to keep the knees straight throughout.) Brush the extended foot back to 1st position. Repeat for a total of 8 “brushes” and then do the other side. Remember to brush through the second toe to keep the ankle aligned.
Seated Foot Stretch
You may wish to have a small towel or strap handy in case you have trouble grabbing the ball of your foot.
1. Sit comfortably in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.
2. Cross the right ankle on top of the left knee. Hold the heel with the left hand and reach the right hand over the top of the toes to grab the ball of the foot.
3. Use the right hand to gently flex the ball of the foot and toes backward toward the shin. You can apply pressure to the toes to accentuate the stretch.
4. Breathe and hold for 8 slow counts. Release the flex.
5. Now place the right hand on the front of the ankle and grab the top of the toes with the left hand, pulling them towards your body to point the toes.
6. Breathe and hold for 8 slow counts.
7. Release and Repeat entire stretching sequence 2 more times. Then do the other side.
Seated Foot Massage
Get a small rubber ball (a jack ball will do). Sitting in a chair, place one foot on top of the ball and apply light pressure as you roll the ball against the bottom of your foot. If you find a sore spot, hang out and breathe as you allow the ball to press gently into it. Be sure to do the other foot, too!
With a little Ballet TLC, your pooped pups will perk up in no time!