Most of us never really appreciate all that our feet do for us, but as a dancer, “being on your feet” all day takes on a whole new meaning. To a dancer, movement is life. The thought of a foot or ankle injury is unbearable and in many cases, injuries to these areas can be career-ending. Therefore, it is important to both stretch and strengthen these priceless assets to avoid any mishaps.
The foot and ankle take quite the beating on an everyday basis as they absorb shock and also help to support your entire body from the bottom up. Add a rigorous dance routine and there will inevitably be even more stress. While feet come in every shape, size, and color, their composition is the same. Feet are basically broken down into three-foot types – normal arch, high arch, and flat arch.
The plantar fascia is the tissue or ligament that connects your heel to the toes along the arch of the foot. The tighter the plantar fascia, the higher the arch will appear when standing flat. Those who have flat feet simply have looser fascia, but this does not mean a beautifully arched foot cannot be achieved. In fact, most dancers who have a “banana foot” have worked the flexibility along the top and sides of the foot and ankle rather than just focusing on the arch itself.
I remember stretching the top of my foot by putting it under my mattress. Now one can even purchase foot stretchers for this purpose.
There are many exercises one can do to improve the strength and flexibility of one’s foot, but one should focus on working on both the outside and the inside of the foot.
When it comes to dancing, strength and flexibility is a factor that is of equal importance, since the foot and ankle are the base for about 99% of all your movement, the muscles need to be especially strong to support the dancer, especially when on pointe.
The action of rising onto the ball of the foot or even up onto pointe, engages the tibialis anterior, the gastrocnemius, the digitorum longus, the extensor and flexor muscles, and the peroneal muscles. All of these muscles need to work in harmony along the calf to stabilize the ankle.
At the bar when dancers practice dozens of releves, although it may seem tedious, this type of exercise is such an effective strengthener and those who do it regularly will achieve amazing results.
Exercises To Strengthen Ankles And Feet
Here are some simple but effective exercises that dancers can use on an ongoing basis. These are exercises to strengthen ankles and feet and should be done regularly, even when you think your feet are strong.
- Walk on your heels. Try to do this with straight legs and all your toes lifted off of the ground.
- Place a tennis ball between your ankles and rise and lower 20 times without dropping the ball. The feet should be in parallel.
- Balance on one leg. Try to hold the balance for between 30 to 60 seconds. This is an excellent one for strengthening the supporting leg.
- Lay a scarf on the floor in front of you. Place the foot on the scarf and use your toes to grab the scarf and pull it inward toward your heel until you have reached the end of the scarf. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each foot.
- Rise and lower on each foot 20 or more times.
- Place one foot in front of the other, some distance apart in a parallel position with your hands on your hips. Keeping your back straight and core muscles engaged, slowly bend both knees into a deep lunge. As you bend the knees, try to maintain stability in your ankle on the front foot, as this foot is likely to wobble and shake as you transfer more weight onto it. Hold the lunge as you count to five. Slowly return to straight legs. Switch legs and perform the slow lunge again. Do it 5 times alternating sides.
- Petit allegro or small jumps using your feet to push off of the floor is also great for strengthening those ankles and feet.
Here is a follow-along video of some great foot strengtheners.