Train Your Feet: A Foundation For Health

massage therapist's foot on a therapy ball

Rolling your foot over a small, firm ball helps improve flexibility and release tension.

It’s that time of year when many parts of your body that have been under wraps for months are seeing the light of day. Among them, your feet.

These two body parts that move you around the world are often not the focus of fitness. They don’t get nearly the attention we pay to our arms, legs, and abs. But healthy feet are integral to whole body wellness.

Our feet are our foundation, in more than one way. Physically, they are literally the foundation of what contacts the ground. Our feet are a primary part of how we interact with our world. 

They also set up how the rest of our body moves; that is, they’re at the foundation of our movement. If that sounds a bit unclear or odd, read on. We’re getting to that next. 

How Our Feet Impact Our Body

Imagine that you can’t touch your heels to the ground. Now think through how that might impact how you walk and move. And imagine if you did this for months or years. 

You’d develop a lot of compensations around this tip-toe movement, which would very likely lead to pain and injury. This is because, when your body isn’t moving freely, when you’re restricting movement, some muscles work harder, and some work less or get overstretched. 

This in itself can cause tightness, pain, and achiness. It also impacts tendons and ligaments, which can themselves get overstressed, shortened, or weakened. This can lead to strains, sprains, and inflammation.

What this points to is, if our feet aren’t solidly on the ground for prolonged periods of time, we can be facing some problems. 

The reality is, you don’t have to imagine our above scenario, because it’s something most of us actually do, all the time, by wearing shoes with heels. Mind you, we’re not just talking about high-heeled shoes like pumps; most shoes have some sort of lift. 

Wearing heels leads to tight calves, which can work up to tight hamstrings and hips, and then up into the lower back: wearing heels can contribute to setting off a chain reaction of tightness throughout the back body. 

Another issue with shoes is that they often squish our feet. That is, they don’t allow for our feet to fully splay out. This leads to tightening up the little muscles and connective tissues within our feet and toes. Ideally, the bottom of your foot and your toes are able to make as much contact with the ground as possible. When you smoosh your feet and toes together all the time, the ability to do this is diminished. This inhibited ability of the foot and toes to fully “extend” or splay can lead to impeding our balance and our gait. 

Now obviously this happens to degrees; we aren’t all tipping over all the time, after all. So, there’s no need to panic and toss all your shoes. But in case that was a consideration, let’s talk about it. 

Do I Need to Go Barefoot Everywhere? 

No. While certainly some people would advocate for a (mostly) shoeless world for better health—and they may be generally right—that simply isn’t practical all the time. And just like every other way we move our bodies, moderation is key. For instance, we know that sitting for prolonged periods of time isn’t healthy. But, that doesn’t mean we stop sitting altogether. 

The same applies here. Wear the shoes you’re accustomed to, but mix things up with some barefoot time or time in minimally supportive shoes. What’s important is to be mindful that your shoes do have an impact on your foot wellness, which impacts the rest of your body. 

Also, here’s the other catch: most of us are so used to our feet being in shoes that are supportive or otherwise change our gait, that going directly to being barefoot or wearing “minimal” shoes all the time is very likely going to cause injuries. 

A common issue is Achilles or calf pain. As mentioned above, most shoes have some sort of lift or heel. This causes your calves to contract and shortens your Achilles tendon. Over time, this can cause your calf and Achilles to be chronically tight. When you are barefoot or in a totally flat shoe, you’re asking those parts of your body to stretch to their full length. If you do this too much or too aggressively, you’re going to feel it. 

Along those same lines, if you do wear heels all the time and are looking to wear flats a lot, ease into the transition.

This leads us to the great news in all of this: the body is constantly changing, and if you work with your body to make change at a pace it can handle, it will adapt. Said another way, if you make small changes over time, you can safely make corrections in your feet, which will reverberate through your body.

Strengthening Your Feet

We want feet that are strong and responsive. Walking and standing barefoot does both, so make that a regular practice. But like we just mentioned, be sure not to overdo it at first. Baby steps. 

There are also many basic foot strengthening exercises you can begin to implement, including the 5 basic exercises in this short video: 

Something to keep in mind when doing any foot strengthening is to really be mindful of what your feet are doing. Make these movements slowly and thoughtfully to help reestablish the full range of motion to all of the muscles and joints. 

Stretching Your Feet

In addition to strength, it’s important to be able to move well. There are a lot of bones, muscles, and connective tissues in your feet. Ideally, all of these many parts are agile. For most of us, this isn’t nearly the case. So let’s get to stretching. 

One of the best ways to stretch out your feet is by using a small firm ball. Tennis balls are great for this. All you do is stand or sit, shoes off, and, one at a time, roll your foot over the ball with firm pressure. When you find a spot that feels sensitive—and you will—stay there a little bit longer. Another great stretch is gently flexing your toes back. 

As with all stretching, doing small amounts on a regular basis is the recommendation. With the ball, start out with 3-5 minutes per foot, 3 times a week, and see how it goes. With the toe stretch, be gentle and hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds, also 3 times a week. Do what feels comfortable and relaxing. 

Body Balance: Our Expertise In Corrective Exercise

Here at Body Balance, we have the knowledge, experience, and training in corrective exercises to help you achieve whole body health. We work with clients to assess imbalances and prescribe a path to reestablishing wellnessall the way down to your feet.

Through myofascial release techniques, stretching, and strengthening, we’ll help you return to better mobility and fitness. We save you from the guesswork of trying to figure out the best approach to correcting an issue you may be having.

Through our understanding of where problems are most likely rooted, we can help you get to the source efficiently, and we can create a path to better health. Working with a personal trainer at Body Balance also helps you remain consistent in your efforts; we’ll help you stay on that path.

Stepping Forward

Welcome summer by getting to know the power of your feet. Let it be a time to strengthen, stretch, and honor these two very hard-working connections to the earth. 


Cherie Turner


  • Didi

    May 28, 2021 at 9:22 am

    Another great article, Cherie! Bravo! Didi

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