How to Strengthen Your Feet with Arch Lifts

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Edited by Alycea Ungaro, P.T., M.S.

As a Pilates teacher, I am constantly working with peoples' feet. Whether it's bone, muscle, ligament or tendon, small issues in the feet can lead to larger full body problems. For most people, simply maintaining the structural integrity of the arches of the feet is enough to stave off progressive foot problems. Learning how to lift the arches is one of the most effective foot exercises you can do, and yet most people overlook this key move to shape and maintain the arches of the feet.

By way of anatomy, there are actually 3 arches in the foot. Most of us are familiar with the obvious arch that shows up along the inside of our foot from the heel to the ball of the foot. This is known as medial longitudinal arch. The second, less familiar arch runs lengthwise along the outside of the foot, and is known as the lateral longitudinal arch. Finally, we have a third arch that runs side to side across the mid-foot which is the transverse arch.

In order for our feet to work optimally, all 3 of the arches need to be sound, strong and flexible. To stand, walk, and run our feet provide the basis of healthy movement beginning at the ground and working up the length of our skeleton. Put simply, when something goes wrong with the feet, the whole body pays the price. Hip pain? It could be your feet Back spasms? It could easily be your feet. Follow the instructions below and take control of your feet, and possibly the rest of your body.

Step by Step Arch Exercise:

  1. Align Your Foot and Leg: You can do this exercise standing or sitting. If you choose standing, do it with your legs and feet in parallel position. If you are seated, have your shins straight up and down so that the angle of your ankle is similar to how it would be if you were standing upright. There is a wide variety of curve to the arches of the foot that fall within the normal range. Yours may be greater or less than the average. What is important is to feel the lift and get a sense of all 3 arches working.
  1. Lift the Arches: Keep your toes relaxed, don't scrunch them up, and initiate a bit of a sliding motion pulling the ball of your foot and heel toward each other. Imagine that a dome is inflating under the middle of your foot or that a magnetic force is pulling the ball of your foot and your heel towards each other. The toes and heel remain on the floor the entire time but the arches may hollow up off the floor.

    Tips: This is not a big move. Don't expect a dramatic movement. Your foot may not even appear to move. What you are looking for is a subtle change of the foot shape. You should be able to see that medial arch lift if you look to the inside of your foot. As you do the arch lifting, think in terms of the 3 arches of the foot. That will help you get the all-the-way-around feeling rather than just a long arc front to back.
  2. Release the Arch.  Lift and relax the foot back to its starting position.
  3. Repeat 3 to 5 times: You can do this foot exercise throughout the day. It is an easy one to sneak in just about anywhere, anytime.

    This strengthening move is ideal as a first step to healthy feet. To complete an entire healthy foot program, move on to stretching and flexing the foot with the towel curls exercise.

    Pop quiz: Did you know that Joseph Pilates invented equipment specifically to exercise the foot? Learn about Pilates foot exercise equipment.

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