Dancer Health

Putting your best feet forward: 5 simple exercises to keep your feet in fine form

Foot care for dancers

As a dancer, your feet are one of your most precious assets. They work hard for you in every class, rehearsal and performance, and they deserve to be treated with a little TLC.

Practising a regular foot care routine can vastly reduce injuries and can help to improve balance, strength and stability in your body from the ground up.

This short series of five foot exercises will help to boost circulation in your feet, enhance the proprioception of your feet and mobilise the joints to allow more precise articulation of your feet.

You can use these exercises as an excellent foot warm-up before class, but they also serve as a great relaxer at the end of a long day of dancing. They are especially beneficial to use as a warm-up before standing on a cold floor in winter time!

Before you get into the exercises, try starting with an all-over foot massage, and if you have some handy, incorporate massage oil, peppermint foot cream or arnica cream (if your feet are sore) as well. Pay attention to the top of your feet, the arches, the balls of your feet and the toes. If you have time, you can even work up into the calves to help free up your ankles.

Start by sitting down with one leg straight out in front of your hip and the other leg bent and crossed over the straight leg. Work on the foot of the bent leg, and once you finish the series, swap legs.

If you have any foot injuries or pathologies, consult your doctor or specialist before performing these exercises.

#1. The single toe twist and pull

Single toe twist and pull.
Single toe twist and pull.

Using your index finger and thumb, gently twist and pull each toe, one at a time, starting with the pinky toe and then working your way along to the big toe.

Start at the base of each toe, and work your way forward to the tip of the toe.

Apply pressure between the thumb and finger so that you are massaging the toes as you twist each toe back and forth.

#2. The single toe double twist

Single toe double twist.
Single toe double twist.

Place the index finger and thumb of one hand toward the base of the toe, and the finger and thumb of the other hand close to the tip of the toe.

Twist the toe in opposite directions with each hand, gently mobilising the distal phalangeal joints (the top toe joint).

Twist back and forth 2-3 times, starting at the pinky toe and working your way along to the big toe.

#3. The buddy toe criss cross

Place the index finger and thumb of one hand on the pinky toe, and the index finger and thumb of the other hand on the fourth toe.

Using a criss-cross motion, cross the pinky toe over the fourth toe and cross the fourth toe under the pinky toe. Then switch to cross the pinky toe under and the fourth toe over.

Criss cross 5-6 times, starting at the pinky toe and working your way along to the big toe.

#4. The metatarsal mobiliser

Place thumb and fingers of one hand on either side of the fifth metatarsal (the bone connecting to the pinky toe). Place the other hand on either side of the fourth metatarsal.

Gently move the fifth metatarsal downward as you move the fourth metatarsal upward, then reverse, moving in opposing directions, 2-3 times.

Repeat with the fourth and third metatarsal.  

Move along to the second and third metatarsal. The second metatarsal must be held stable as the third is moved up and down, and subsequently, the second metatarsal must be held stable as the first metatarsal is moved up and down. The second metatarsal must not be moved up and down.

#5. The toe and finger handshake

Toe and finger handshake.
Toe and finger handshake.

Interlace the fingers of your hand in between the toes of your opposite foot with the thumb on top of the big toe.

Using your arm and shoulder, circle the foot around at the ankle in one direction 5-6 times. Then reverse the circles and repeat 5-6 times.

Repeat the whole sequence with the thumb underneath between the big toe and second toe.

Repeat each exercise on the other foot, and then come up to standing. How do your feet feel? They should feel a little more energetic, a little lighter, wider and longer.  

These five foot exercises work perfectly as a series, but you can also use each exercise individually as you see fit. Enjoy taking care of your feet. They will thank you.

By Rachel Kennedy of Dance Informa.

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