Do you want a longer stride? A higher jump? A faster leg turnover? Less leg fatigue? Spending five minutes, twice a week, to improve the arches of your feet may be all it takes. Arches are the natural suspension system for your legs. You have three arches on each foot: one running from heel to big toe, one from heel to pinkie toe, and one like a stirrup under your foot. When these springs are strong and can go through a full range of motion, you literally have a spring to your step.
Strong arches have an elastic recoil that will increase the force you create when you push your foot off the ground. They enable you to go farther forward and upwards and propel you faster with the same muscle action. Flexible arches will lengthen when loaded. This allows the foot to absorb impact instead of it jarring up the body and can normalize wobbles when you land on uneven surfaces. Arches that are too flexible act like you are in deep sand; it takes a lot of calf work to walk and your feet tire from being stretched all the time. Arches that are too rigid feel like driving a sports car on a washboard dirt road; you get jostled off line and slow down to reduce the jarring.
What kind of feet do you have? Take a look at you footprints. Stand on firm sand at the beach or dip your feet in water and stand on dry pavement for the same effect. http://www.wikihow.com/Use-the-Footprint-Test. A flat footprint will have a wide connector between the ball of the foot and heel that is half as wide as the ball of the foot. A high arch print will have a thin or discontinuous connector between the ball and heel.
Flat feet/ fallen arches are overstretched springs that have lost their ability to recoil completely. They are too flexible and not very strong. People with fallen arches often have tired feet and legs because they are not getting the spring effect. Plantar Fasciitis can develop because the arch of the foot is always stretched out. Achilles tendonitis is also common as the calf muscles work excessively to act as springs when the arch no longer does.
High arches are very strong and rigid springs that require a lot of force to lengthen. They are excellent at leaping off the ground but are unable to absorb shock as they land. When walking the foot will slap onto the ground, heel striking first, then hinging like a board so the rest of the foot contacts the ground. Ankle sprains are common due to a lack of dynamic foot flexibility and reduced shock absorption can lead to shin splints or stress fractures of the lower leg and foot bones.
It is not uncommon to have one foot with a fallen arch and the other to be normal or high arched. This is usually a result of previous injury or anatomical asymmetry anywhere from the lower back to the toes. For the sake of our discussion here, just treat each foot as the type they are. If you have normal arches; lucky you! But training and stretching your feet will enable you to be faster, jump higher, land softer, and have more efficient movement.
Let’s get started. For foot strengthening (fallen arch training) you will need a medium to heavy resistance band and for foot range of motion training (high arch training) you will need a firm ball such as a lacrosse ball. Both can be found at most sporting goods stores. It is easy to spend three minutes on the warm-up exercises as you are warming up for a training session and two minutes on strength or range of motion exercises as part of your cool down from training.
Foot warm-up and dexterity drill for all arch types
- Single leg balance Simply stand on one leg for 30 seconds. When that becomes easy, do it with your eyes closed. The next step is to do it standing on a wobbly surface like a pillow or to swing the free leg and arms around.
- Big toe lift/ pinkie toe spread Standing, lift your big toe off the ground, just your big toe, and do six toe taps. Do this with the pinkie toe. Next, lift all toes off the ground and lower them one at a time to the floor, big toe to pinkie, then reverse it. You can also lower the toes pinkie to big toe.
- Double/single leg squat to heel lift with alignment Stand with your your feet hip width apart and your hands on your hips. Your index finger should be pressing on a bony spot; this is your anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS). Your ASIS should be in a vertical line over the middle of your knee cap, the divot at the front of your ankle crease, and your second toe. Keeping these points in a line, squat down as far as you can without letting your heels lift. Straighten your legs then lift up onto your toes keeping the alignment points lined up. If you have fallen arches lower the heels and bend the knees to squat in a count of three, then straighten the knees and lift the heels in a count of one. For high arches perform the movement sequence at a slow and steady pace to emphasize your full range of motion. When this becomes easy, try it on one leg. Do six repetitions.
Foot strengthening for fallen arches
- Theraband ankle, foot and toe flexion/extension exercise Sit on the floor with the legs straight out in front of you. If your hamstrings are tight or you have low back discomfort, you can on a big pillow or thick book to raise your hips above your feet to make this position comfortable. Put your foot lengthwise in the middle of the band so the band wraps under your calf, over your heel to toes, then up over your shin. Take a hold of each tail; calf end in the opposite hand and shin end in the same side hand. Pull on the band so it pulls your foot into a flexed (fully bent ankle) position by walking your hands down the band towards your foot. Spread your toes wide in the band so there is resistance on each toe, then relax them. Now you are in position to start the exercise. Relax your foot and toes; the band should pull your ankle into full flexion and toes pulled back towards you. Move to point your foot against resistance by first moving your ankle, then your toes. Keep the toes pointed and slowly flex the ankle to the start position then slowly let the toes return to the start position. After four to five of these, reverse the motion by pointing the toes first, then the ankle and return the toes then the ankle to the start position for four to five repetitions.
- Theraband pronation/supination exercise Keeping the foot cinched in the resistance band as above in the same start position sweep the ball of your foot left and right while the heel stays planed on the ground like a windshield wiper on a concave surface. After four to five repetitions do this with the ankle and toes pointed for another four to five repetitions. As this gets easy, try variations with only the toes or ankle pointed.
Foot range of motion exercises for high arches
- Ball forefoot release series Standing on a flat surface, slide a lacrosse ball under the ball of the foot while the heel stays planted on the floor. Bend down and stretch each toe over the ball using the apex of the ball to round the toes and ball of the foot. Stand back up and roll the pinkie toe side of the foot to the floor over the ball, then roll the big toe side of the foot to the floor. After each cycle wiggle the lacrosse ball half an inch back toward your heel and repeat the stretch and side to side motion until you can no longer keep the heel on the ground.
- Ball hindfoot release series Standing on a flat surface, slide a lacrosse ball under the middle of the foot, as far towards the toes where you can keep the toes planted on the floor. Bend down and press your heel towards the ground over the apex of the ball by cupping the back of the heel. Stand back up and rock the foot side to side over the ball. After each cycle wiggle the lacrosse ball half an inch back toward your heel, repeating the stretch and side to side motion until the ball is in the middle of your heel.
It should take six weeks of doing this routine twice a week to have measurable results, but after just a week or two you should feel renewed lightness to your feet.