5 Exercises for Stronger, More Flexible Feet


By: , – Stacey Lei Krauss, barefoot fitness expert
11/30/2012 2:00 PM   :  60 comments   :  329,470 Views

Over the past three decades, fitness shoe manufacturers have developed advanced technology to cushion and control motion in our feet and ankles. While this advanced support can feel great, it doesn't allow our joints and soft tissue to articulate normally. As a result, we've disconnected with our feet! Much of our losses in flexibility and mobility can be attributed to the fact that our feet have become stiff and weak.   A healthy, aligned and balanced body begins in your feet—and then translates through your entire kinetic chain (ankle, knee, hip, lower back).
As a pioneer in foot fitness (Sole Training®) and barefoot training (The willPower Method®), I've been helping everyday clients and athletes strengthen, stretch and train from the feet on up for more than 10 years. If you're intrigued by barefoot running/training or thinking of trying minimalist shoes, you must start working on your feet first. And even if barefoot training isn't something you're considering, everyone can still benefit from building foot and ankle mobility and strength.
Are you tired of wearing uncomfortable orthotics or getting painful cortisone injections? Are you dealing with an old injury or plantar fasciitis? Are you finding that your balance skills are not what they used to be?
These five exercises will help you to strengthen and stretch all ten toes, and develop flexible strength from the ground up.  Over time you will enjoy improved balance in daily activities and workouts, a stronger walking/running stride, increased circulation and mobility throughout the feet and ankles, and significant reductions of foot, leg and lower back pain and injuries. All it takes is five minutes a day!
Before your next run, walk or workout, try these moves from my "willPower & grace®: Mile High" DVD in bare feet:
Begin with feet firmly on the floor, parallel to each other, shoulder distance apart.
Toe Fan
Lift and lower your toes. You want your pinkie toe to rise to the same level as your big toe. Repeat 4 times. Then, on the lift, spread your toes as wide as you can 4 times.
This exercise will strengthen the muscles in your front lower leg compartment (shin) as well as your toes.  Increased strength and flexibility in your toes can lead to a stronger pushoff for runners/walkers and better balance.

Great Toe Down
Leave all 10 toes up. Press just the big toes down and up. Repeat 8 times. Then do the same with the pinkie toes 8 times. Then alternate big toes and pinky toes 8 times.
This exercise develops smart neuromuscular connections (reconnecting) with your feet. Smart feet are the base of a strong, healthy kinetic chain, and can lead to greater function all the way up the body.

Rock Out
Rock onto the outer edge of your foot and then the inner edge a few times loosening up the ankles.
This flexible strength exercises for the ankles may lead to a reduction in ankle injuries. 

Heel Raise
Lift just the heel of your right foot so you’re on the ball of that foot. Slowly drop it down to the floor. Repeat 8 times. Then, with the heel lifted, roll the ball of the foot from side to side. Repeat on the other side.
In addition to developing flexibility in the forefoot, this exercise helps to stimulate the reflexology points in your feet that correspond to the heart and lungs—a great exercise to do prior to a cardio workout

Grip the ground with your toes and release. (Grip it rather than curl the toes under.) Repeat 4 times.
This exercise stimulates the movement of the arch lifting (called “doming”). 
Take a few minutes to do these moves each day. You should find this will improve your balance, flexibility and alignment so you’ll get more from whichever form of exercise you enjoy the most.
About Stacey Lei Krauss
Stacey Lei Krauss is an international fitness educator accredited with ACSM, ACE, AFAA, 10 years of dance training and over 20 years in the fitness industry.
Considered a pioneer of Foot Fitness, she was coined the "Barefoot Contessa" by Daily Candy, San Francisco, for her Sole Training® program. Since 2000, Stacey Lei has taught thousands of people how to strengthen and smarten their feet, eliminate foot pain, and enhance function and performance.

During the launch of the Nike Free (barefoot/natural) shoe in 2005, Stacey Lei was signed as a Nike Elite Instructor, and she continued her affiliation for six years. She programmed, scripted and recorded the Nike Anywhere, Anytime downloadable workouts, available at iTunes.
In 2011, after a decade of barefoot study, she joined the Vibram FiveFingers® team as Lead Fitness Advisor; writing education and programming to help consumers and athletes understand the concept of natural foot training and how to use Vibram FiveFingers® as a safe and efficient training tool.

Stacey Lei is the president of willPower productions, LLC., and the creator of The willPower Method. She is best known as the creator of the award-winning barefoot cardio-fitness program, willPower & grace®, which is represented by a global team of instructors and taught in fitness facilities around the world.  As a Reiki student and practitioner, she approaches exercise and movement through a functionally integrated body-mind-spirit practice.

Do you think barefoot-strengthening exercises are important for everyone? Have you tried the barefoot or minimalist shoe trend?

Photos provided by Stacey Lei Krauss/The willPower Method®.

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  • 10
    Great exercises !
    But on "Great Toe Down", my toes only move together. Is that normal ?
    THANKS - 11/30/2011   7:58:56 PM
  • 9
    Fantastic! I am so delighted to read Stacey's foot exercises.
    As a runner I am finding the more distance I cover, the more I need to stretch and flex my feet.
    I am drawn to Stacey's mind/body/spirit integration.
    Respect sister!
    I have a new mini goal for Jan- buy vibrams for Christmas and have a go! - 11/30/2011   6:39:22 PM
  • 8
    I like these! I can even do them in a chair on the days I can't be on my feet because of pain and fatigue from my cancer and chemo. - 11/30/2011   5:34:43 PM
  • 7
    Thank you. I've been have trouble with my feet feeling stiff, especially after I broke my foot over the summer. I'm definitely going to try these exercises. - 11/30/2011   5:21:58 PM
  • JULIA1154
    I'll certainly use these exercises but I would ease into barefoot or minimalist workouts very gradually, if at all. This is, however, a very interesting and timely blog. - 11/30/2011   4:56:42 PM
  • 5
    wow, I'm going to try these and see if it helps some feet pain I get. - 11/30/2011   4:27:20 PM
    Thanks for this... I have some awful pain in my feet and can no longer be without my shoes for any time at all before the pain gets real bad. - 11/30/2011   4:00:42 PM
  • 3
    Thanks for this article! I've been having some very disturbing problems with my feet recently and I do think these exercises will be a great help and the article is a great motivation for me.
    I discovered "doming" abou 15 years ago on my own. I didn;t know it had a name. I did it after looking at a reflexology ad in the papers and was reminded of the way the footbones resembled the spine and thought that if we need both strong back and ab muscles our feet must be the same way so I did it and cured my plantar fasciitis on my own. I had kept it up for a while, but now I can add these other excerises. Thanks again, this it going into my Favorites! - 11/30/2011   3:20:21 PM
  • 2
    What great exercises! I've been breaking in my first pair of Vibrams over the last few days, and I've been struggling to find the right combination of strength training and stretches. The arch strengthening exercise is particularly useful. Thanks for the insights. - 11/30/2011   2:24:36 PM
  • 1
    Great blog! I started minimalist running about 6 months ago and it has totally changed my body, running posture, minor injury frequency, balance, ankle strength, etc. About a month ago I did yoga for the first time in almost a year- I was AMAZED! I had the strength and balance to be better at it than I EVER was! All because I've reconnected with the many muscles in my feet once again. I felt like an over-night yoga pro! I even got my husband on the barefoot bandwagon and I'd swear you'd think he'd discovered a new religion by the way he loves it. :) I'll definitely add these little exercises to our warm-up routine! - 11/30/2011   2:18:31 PM

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