If you read my last post, you know that I have some requirements for a healthy shoe:
- totally flat (or "zero drop")
- thin, flexible sole
- roomy toe box
- well-attached upper
But switching to a barefoot or minimalist shoe lifestyle can demand a lot from the body, especially if that body has been wearing "supportive" shoes for most of its life or heels. Indeed, wearing shoes that meet the above requirements might not even be possible without seriously tending to the tension and weakness in your lower legs and feet.
So here are some exercises to get you moving in the right direction.
Note: It seems that feet need a lot of care and work and it can be easy to injure those precious extremities. I recommend transitioning shoes (or to no shoes) gradually, really honoring whatever boundaries exist in your body, knowing that they will change over time, the more you ask it to adapt.
Exercise 1: Align the Feet
Stand up and look down at your feet. What's their general position? Do they look like this:
Most people seem to have this turn out going on. I want you to move your feet so that the outside edges are parallel (the actual bones that should line up are the lateral malleolus with the 5th metatarsal, for those of you who are into that sort of specificity). They should also be about hip-width distance apart, but we can get into that another time.
They should look something like this:
Practice standing and walking like this.
Exercise 2: Stretch the Calves
You know that running sneaker you wear? Well it, and about any shoe you find, has some sort of heel. This changes the length of the calf muscle (check yours this way), which is why you now feel better in something a little heeled. In order to be comfortable wearing something truly flat, you've gotta change that calf length.
Using a foam dome, rolled yoga mat or towel do this:
Keep the outside edges of your feet parallel; only step forward as far as you can without holding a lot of tension to keep from falling forward; keep your knee straight. Your non-stretching leg probably won't come in front of your stretching one...yet.
Hold for one minute. Switch sides. Do this a hundred times a day if, like me, you have absurdly short calves from years of soccer playing and orthodic-wearing (I'm stretching my calves right now). Or maybe just three times a day if you are less impaired.
Exercise 3: Stretch the Top of the Foot
Almost every client I have had thus far is really tight across the top of the feet. So grab a hold of the wall for balance, send one foot back behind you, tucking the toes under and hold for one minute.
Or hold for nine seconds until your foot cramps and then quickly come out of the stretch. Switch sides.
Exercise 4: Awaken the Sole
Let's see if we can connect with all those little muscles in your beautiful feet.
Divide your foot into nine areas (three columns, three rows), something like this:
Now grab a soft ball, like a tennis ball or squishy cat toy (my favorite) and plant your foot on it. Keep your heel on the ground and hold over the tennis ball in each of the nine areas for about a minute (nine minutes total per foot).
If this seems like a lot, consider that at my last Restorative Exercise™ training, we spent 45 minutes on ONE FOOT, after having broken it up into 30 distinct areas. There may have been some complaining.
Exercise 5: Lift Your Toes
I really wish I had video of my feet at the start of my journey toward whole body alignment. Alas, what I am about to tell you to do was entirely inconceivable to me just two years ago. I could hardly move my toes.
Standing with the outside edges of your feet straight, lift just your big toe. And then your second toe. And then your third and so on....And then put your pinky toe down, and then your fourth toe, and then...until they are all back down.
Then plant your big toe and lift the other four.
Even if nothing is happening, keep doing this. The signal between your brain and your toes is probably pretty fuzzy and the muscles are a little weak. But I'm telling you, it will change with work and you'll start bragging to your friends about how that fourth toe can move, baby, it can move!
Exercise 6: Separate Those Piggies
Because your feet have been squished into shoes that aren't the same shape as an actual foot, your toes have all come together. So you can do this:
Or if you are lazy like me, you can buy a product like Yoga Toes and let them do the work for you.
Again, I could hardly wear the toe separators for more than a few minutes when I first purchased them a year and a half ago and now I can wear them around the house all day. Maybe some day my fourth toe will entirely stop hiding underneath the third one.
How'd you do?
I'd love to hear about your own foot journey and how you make out with these exercises. The feet are a gazillion times more important to our whole body health than we probably realize. Even just a few moves like these will start restoring that health from the ground up!