By Mela Debiase
One-quarter of the bones in the human body are in the foot and ankle. Our foot consists of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. As we become older, foot disorders are extremely common and are the cause of much pain, which leads to loss of mobility and thus loss of independence. Women have about four times as many foot problems as men. Heels are partly to blame for this. A 2 1/2 inch heel can increase the load of the forefoot by 75%. Common foot conditions include plantar fasciitis, bunions, hammer toes, claw toes, overlapping toes, flat feet and morton’s neuroma. While some of these can be hereditary, they can all be avoided and/or treated by exercise and wearing appropriate footwear.
So lets learn to love our feet and take care of them. I’m not talking about getting pedicures or developing a foot fetish (not that it’s a problem if you do), but giving your feet the exercise and care they deserve. After all, your feet are the foundation of your body!
Here are 3 quick and easy Pilates exercises you can do at home.
1) 2X4 Exercise
This exercise is traditionally done on a 2 x 4 plank of wood covered with some padding. I don’t have a 2 x 4 at my studio, so I use the pedal of the high chair and tell clients they can do this at home with these life hacks: use stairs and hold the railing for balance or find a hardcover book you don’t mind standing on and cover it with a towel. Get creative, no excuses not to do this one at home! This is a fantastic exercise to improve your ankle strength, knee/ankle/foot alignment and balance. This is really important for seniors, to prevent sprained ankles and falls.
Stand with feet parallel hip distance apart. Balls of your feet on the raised block and heels reaching down to the ground into an achilles tendon stretch.
1. Raise your heels.
2. Bend your knees (maintaining raised heels).
3. Lower your heels to the ground (maintaining bent knees).
4. Stretch your legs (maintaining heels down).
Repeat 5 times, then reverse directions.
Watch your alignment as you move through the steps. Keep your weight in the center of your foot and your knee and ankle in a line with your hip bones. In the demo video, you can see Yuuki has flat feet so her challenge is to not sink into her arches as she lowers her heels. Standing in front of a mirror can help you see your alignment without having to look down at your feet. Keep your back tall and your tailbone pointed to the ground in this exercise, lifting up from your center to stretch your legs and maintain that lift as you bend your knees.
2) Toe Exerciser
This accessory is not expensive to buy if you’d like to have your own one at home, but again my life hack for this is to use hairbands. It is not the same as a spring, but it’s a way for you to get extra foot love at home! The Toe exerciser will reveal imbalances in your feet and legs. It will work more than your toes, it’s a butt workout too! What I love is how it makes you aware of how you can connect your center all the way down to your feet. If you have bunions this is for you! I’m not saying it will completely fix your bunions, but it may help you avoid surgery.
Sit on a flat surface with legs straight out in front of you, or sit on the edge a low chair or stool with legs extended to straight and heels on the ground. Place toe exerciser straps on your big toes.
1. Start with feet apart but no tension on the spring yet in parallel.
2. Engage your seat, pull your abdominals in and up and let yourself sit taller as you externally rotate your legs and feet. Your heels should remain in the same place so that you stretch your spring as you do this.
3. Rotate back to parallel, and repeat 5 times.
4. Work only one foot at a time. For example rotate the Right leg/foot out to the side as the Left side stays still (toes to the ceiling) and acts as a stabilizer. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
Make sure your rotation starts at the top of your leg bones, at your hips, it is not just your foot rotating out. Keep your heels down and be careful of hyperextending your knees (especially if you are seated up on a chair). Your leg bones and feet should rotate equally keeping your foot and knee in alignment. Keep your toes long, watch for toes that like to shorten and tense. Think of “This little piggy went to market” and pull each of your toes up and out of the foot. Don’t leave your big toe behind, feel the whole foot pulling on the spring.
3) Towel Exercise
This is such a good exercise to create mobility in your feet. Great for people with flat feet! I recommend doing this after you get out of the shower while you have a towel handy, or when you brush your teeth….it’s a great way to start your day.
Place a towel on the floor and step your feet halfway on the towel in parallel hip distance apart. You can do this exercise seated or standing.
1. Lift your toes and the balls of your feet up and spread all 10 toes out making spaces between each toe (don’t forget about your little toes).
2. Place your feet back down on the towel and suck the arch of your foot up so your toes drag the towel under your foot.
3. Continue lifting your arch to lift the toes off the ground (leaving the towel bunched up under your foot) and spread the toes out again to repeat until you have pulled as much towel as you can under your foot.
4. Reverse by cupping the foot in the air to lower your toes down, keeping the arch lifted initially, and then push the towel away as you spread the foot out on the towel. Continue until you have pushed away as much towel as you can.
You can also do one foot at a time. Watch your foot alignment and use each part of your foot equally. In the demo video, you can see Yuuki’s right foot really wants to veer out to the side, this is due to her flat feet so she is working hard on trying to use the outside of her foot to push the towel away and not just collapsing in her arch on the inside of her foot. Don’t be discouraged if the towel hardly moves at first, you will still be working the muscles and as your foot strengthens and stretches so will your range of motion improve.
Whether you are on your feet all day or sitting for long periods, which can reduce blood flow to the feet, it doesn’t hurt to treat your feet at the end of the day to a foot soak with some epsom salts (eliminates toxins and eases stress), peppermint oil (pain reliever and anti inflammatory) or tea tree oil (anti fungal, helps reduce athlete’s foot). Or one of my favorite things to do, share a foot rub with your partner while you watch your favorite TV show. Here’s to happy feet everyone!