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As athletes, we spend a lot of time stretching our large muscle groups in preparation for workouts, but we bet each of you a hundred bucks that you’ve never really taken the time to stretch your feet.
“The feet are a major component of the posterior chain,” says Dr. Andrew Yaun DC, CCSP, and owner of Optimal Sport Therapy in Fairfield, Connecticut, who points out that the complete posterior chain runs from your forehead to the top of your head all the way to the arch of your foot. “Tight ankles/feet will result in a stiffer posterior chain, won’t adapt to uneven ground and could even cause injury.”
Besides flexing and pointing, the 33 joints within your feet should be able to move in multiple directions in order to provide sensory feedback to your body from the ground. “Since we put on thick-soled shoes and essentially walk on artificial ground, this sensory component is diminished,” Yaun says. “The body adapts to the stresses — or lack of stresses — placed on it. This means that if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
The good news is that in about three minutes, you can vastly improve foot flexibility and reactivity, and increase the mobility of your entire posterior chain. Follow these preworkout steps and stretches from Yaun and better flex your flip side.
- Test yourself: Take off your shoes, standing with your feet underneath your hips, knees straight but not locked, and slowly fold forward to reach toward the ground. Don’t force the stretch or bounce; simply go as far as you can and make a mental note of your starting point.
- Take a lacrosse ball or tennis ball and spend 30 to 60 seconds on each foot rolling the ball underneath, hitting the heel, toes, arch, ball and toes of the foot. Move slowly and make sure to spend some time on tender or tight areas.
- Put the ball aside, sit on the floor and grab one foot with both hands. Manipulate your foot and ankle for 30 to 60 seconds, bending your toes back and forth, folding them down, spreading them out — whatever you can do to increase mobility.
- Stand back up and, one foot at a time, spread your toes apart as far as you can and hold for a few seconds. Repeat three to five per foot.
- Retest yourself: Without doing any other stretches, assume the same position you did for your initial test. How far did you reach this time?
- Now put on your shoes and go kill your workout!