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Exercise of the Month: Fascial Movement Exercises for Foot and Ankle Mobility and Strength

Why is it so important to exercise, stretch and strengthen the feet and ankles?

Concealed by socks and shoes most of the time, your feet are likely one of the most neglected areas of your body. Yet so much is demanded of the feet and ankles every day – from initiating functional movements to absorbing high-impact activity like running.

By stretching, strengthening, stabilizing and mobilizing the muscles and fascia in your feet, you can prevent injuries, improve range of motion, balance and agility, and address dysfunctions that may be negatively affecting other parts of your body, such as the knees and hips.

Foot problems impact about 30% of older adults and have been associated with falls, according to research published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. Having sufficient range of motion, flexibility and strength in the feet, toes and ankles can improve gait and may even reduce the risk of falls — all the more reason to make this month’s exercises part of your regular workout routine.

To start this year’s series of Exercise of the Month videos, Merrithew Master Instructor Trainer PJ O’Clair demonstrates several Fascial Movement exercises to help you build a strong and limber foundation from the feet and ankles up.

Part of our Merrithew Fascial Movement and ZEN•GA® programming, these exercises are designed to mobilize, stabilize and strengthen the feet and ankles. Add these exercises to your warm-up routine before a jog, walk, skate, cross-country ski or Reformer Pilates session.

PJ’s go-to props for these exercises are the Weighted Massage Roller, Non-Latex Flex-Band® and Flex-Band® Loop.

Tips:

  • Start each movement slowly to wake up the feet and develop the mind-body connection, then gradually increase the speed
  • Use different bands to increase or decrease the resistance level depending on the client’s mobility and comfort
  • If your clients prefer a smooth surface, use a ball instead of the spiky Weighted Massage Roller

Read the full transcript of the video below:

Hi, I’m PJ O’Clair, a Master Instructor Trainer for Merrithew. Today, I’d like to talk to you about the foot and the ankle. So I’m not going to give you an anatomy lesson; there are plenty of resources you can go to for the bones, muscles and fascia of the foot. But what I will do is show you some movement experientials that I think you’ll really like to show you how to mobilize the ankle and the foot and strengthen and get that dynamic stability that you need.

I’m going to use a few props – this Weighted Massage Roller, it has some substance and the spikes aren’t too aggressive so they feel really nice on the foot. The other thing I’m going to use is a Flex-Band. I have the latex-free band because I really like the texture when it’s on a bare foot. The other thing I’m going to use is the Flex-Band Loop.

Let’s start with some activation with the Weighted Massage Roller. I’m going to roll my foot back and forth kind of quickly for 30 seconds on each side to get the responsiveness and activation going through the tissue and muscles of the foot, that feels really nice. Some people don’t like the spiky massage rollers, so you can use a ball instead, whatever works best for you and your clients. It’s good to have a variety of props for them to choose from to see what works best. We’re doing this exercise to mobilize and wake up the feet.

Now we’re going to work on the arch of the foot. I’m going to place the Flex-Band on the floor and put the arch of my foot on top of the band, and then I’m going to bend forward. We teach this in our ZEN•GA Fascial Movement programming where it’s called the Arch Stimulator. I’m going to roll my foot to the outer edge and pull up on the band on the inside, then switch, rolling onto the inside edge of the foot and pulling up on the outside part of the band. This brings my foot into that inversion and eversion and those are really important actions to practice because we do them in gait, and then we’re going to go it a little quicker to mobilize the tissue. Use this movement experiential to warm up before a run or a walk or even a Pilates session. Rock the foot side-to-side and do that for about 30-60 seconds. I like to start slow, this is the education phase – when we’re connecting the mind and body, and then you can add speed as a variable and get that rocking action.

The next exercise, which you’ve probably seen before if you’ve been following our ZEN•GA Fascial Movement programming is called the Circle Step. Take the Flex-Band, step on it with one foot and then hold both sides of the band taut at the top of the pelvis and stabilize that. Now you can feel, if you just stand there, that the band is pulling you into that inverted position so you really have to work hard to stabilize the muscles. And then you add this motion of going back and forth in this half circle pivot pattern. This is a really great mobilizing exercise for the foot and also a strengthening exercise because as you turn in, can you feel how much the arch of your foot has to do to keep you from allowing that inversion to occur? You’re having to really resist that motion. We do this on both sides.

Next we’re going to come to sitting and we’re going to use the Flex-Band Loop. Place it around the arches of the feet. Stabilize the upper legs and mobilize just the lower leg, so I’ve got my tibia going out and in. I’m lifting my toes up but keeping my heel on the ground, so I’m really working the muscles of the shin and the foot. Do it on both sides. You can also do it bilaterally so one foot can assist the other, if there’s weakness, to learn the proper movement pattern and the speed. That’s a great strengthener.

Using the Flex-Band, this is our final exercise. I’m going to create a loop in the band and let it drape on the floor and step on it with my right foot. Then I’ll put my left foot in the loop and place my ankle above my knee in a figure four position. The band is pulling my foot into an everted position, so I want to resist that and work concentrically, but it’s also working that eccentric factor because of the elasticity of the band, so I’m going into that inversion position. I have my hands here to guide my foot. You don’t have to have the hands there, but it does help when you’re first learning. You can adjust the resistance based on your mobility level. Do that for 10-15 reps or until you feel some fatigue.

So that’s how we mobilize and dynamically strengthen the feet and ankles. Thanks for joining me.

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