Note: this article was published in the Australian Pole Dancers Magazine
When you’re thinking about getting flexibility in your legs, you don’t often think about your feet. These frequently forgotten, and unstretched, body parts are an important component to your lines and the overall perception of your “flexiness”. To see why your foot flexibility might be letting you down, let’s start by looking at what you do to your feet that may lead to issues.
Sitting on the ground is something we’ve naturally done for millions of years. If we weren’t sleeping, walking, climbing, or running, most of the time we were sitting on the ground. It wasn’t until the last few hundred years that we started refusing to sit down on anything other than a chair. We suddenly thought sitting on the ground was something only done by children – not adults.
We’re missing out though. When you sit on the ground, one of several benefits is that you usually have to stretch your feet out. Whether you’re sitting cross legged, or with your feet underneath you, your feet get stretched to some degree.
As well as not sitting on the ground much these days, we’ve also started caging our feet up in all sorts of shoes like thick soled runners, high heels and 8-inch platforms! These shoes stop our feet from moving and stretching out the way they were designed to, predisposing them to tighten up and alter not only the mechanics of our feet, but of our whole body.
On top of all this, we then sprain our ankles, kick coffee tables, trip on holes in the ground and put our feet through all sorts of random stresses and strains.
Add all these factors together, and most of us end up with feet that are really tight in one way or another. This changes the way our feet and legs move, not only in pole tricks and dancing, but also in general life.
Interestingly we don’t usually notice tightness in our feet. Not unless you have a foot massage or someone really, really good looking rubs your feet and you notice how good it feels to have this tension released.
Where it does show up though, is in the flexibility of your legs and sometimes, as injuries, elsewhere in your body. So let’s look at some easy ways of stretching your tight feet, and the benefits it can have for your Pole Dancing.
Improve your toe point
“Point your toes!” is one of the mantras of being a pole dancer. There are many ways of improving flexibility of your feet to improve your toe point, but one of the easiest things to do is just sit on the floor with your feet underneath you to stretch them out.
The obvious way of doing this is to have your toes pointed and sit back on top of them like this:
This position stretches out the muscles on the top of your foot and ankle. Make sure you keep your feet straight with your legs and try not to let your toes point inwards. Your foot has muscles on the sole of it as well. These are not getting stretched in this position. One of the secrets to improving flexibility in the direction of your toe point is to also stretch the foot muscles on the other side of your foot and ankle.
This is because the muscles on each side of your foot have to work together and if one side gets tight, the other side has to tighten to stabilise it. Thus you need to stretch out both sides to release the whole “system” of foot muscles.
So as well as sitting with your feet underneath you as in the picture above, you should also sit with your toes underneath too so that the sole of your foot gets stretched like this:
Once you’ve done this, if you retry the first stretch, you may well find that your “toe point” direction is now improved. Everyone is different, but this works for many people.
You may also find that one of these positions is harder to do than the other. The direction that is harder to do is the one that you need to work on the most.
How long to hold these for
Hold these positions only for as long as comfortable. The longer you can sit in them though, the better shape you’re in. Remember, we’re designed to sit on the floor and if you wander across South East Asia, you’ll see people who can sit in these positions all day. So whether it is for 3 seconds or 30 minutes – just do what you can.
An easy way to incorporate these stretches into your day is to sit this way on the floor while watching TV, eating dinner or choreographing your next routine.
Remember to only hold these positions for as long as comfortable!
Improve your splits or hip pain
In some people with restrictions in their splits, or hip pain, foot muscle tightness is altering their biomechanics and predisposing to this distant issue! These people may find that doing these stretches on their feet actually helps loosen up their hips / splits. Whether you have other lower limb issues or not, stretching out your feet can often help loosen the rest of your legs off, which is always a good thing in Pole Dancing, so give it a go!
It’s easy, all you have to do is get out of your chair and sit on the floor.
Pain in your feet or hips
As always, if you have pain or an injury in your feet or hips, make sure you see an Osteopath, or physio to make sure it gets better as quickly as possible and doesn’t reoccur. Don’t try to stretch through it.