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5 Exercises for Stronger, More Flexible Feet

By , Stacey Lei Krauss, barefoot fitness expert
Over the past three decades, fitness shoe manufacturers have developed advanced technology to cushion and control motion in our feet and ankles. While this advanced support can feel great, it doesn't allow our joints and soft tissue to articulate normally. As a result, we've disconnected with our feet! Much of our losses in flexibility and mobility can be attributed to the fact that our feet have become stiff and weak.   A healthy, aligned and balanced body begins in your feet—and then translates through your entire kinetic chain (ankle, knee, hip, lower back).
As a pioneer in foot fitness (Sole Training®) and barefoot training (The willPower Method®), I've been helping everyday clients and athletes strengthen, stretch and train from the feet on up for more than 10 years. If you're intrigued by barefoot running/training or thinking of trying minimalist shoes, you must start working on your feet first. And even if barefoot training isn't something you're considering, everyone can still benefit from building foot and ankle mobility and strength.
Are you tired of wearing uncomfortable orthotics or getting painful cortisone injections? Are you dealing with an old injury or plantar fasciitis? Are you finding that your balance skills are not what they used to be?
These five exercises will help you to strengthen and stretch all ten toes, and develop flexible strength from the ground up.  Over time you will enjoy improved balance in daily activities and workouts, a stronger walking/running stride, increased circulation and mobility throughout the feet and ankles, and significant reductions of foot, leg and lower back pain and injuries. All it takes is five minutes a day!
Before your next run, walk or workout, try these moves from my "willPower & grace®: Mile High" DVD in bare feet:
Begin with feet firmly on the floor, parallel to each other, shoulder distance apart.
Toe Fan
Lift and lower your toes. You want your pinkie toe to rise to the same level as your big toe. Repeat 4 times. Then, on the lift, spread your toes as wide as you can 4 times.
This exercise will strengthen the muscles in your front lower leg compartment (shin) as well as your toes.  Increased strength and flexibility in your toes can lead to a stronger pushoff for runners/walkers and better balance.

Great Toe Down
Leave all 10 toes up. Press just the big toes down and up. Repeat 8 times. Then do the same with the pinkie toes 8 times. Then alternate big toes and pinky toes 8 times.
This exercise develops smart neuromuscular connections (reconnecting) with your feet. Smart feet are the base of a strong, healthy kinetic chain, and can lead to greater function all the way up the body.

Rock Out
Rock onto the outer edge of your foot and then the inner edge a few times loosening up the ankles.
This flexible strength exercises for the ankles may lead to a reduction in ankle injuries. 

Heel Raise
Lift just the heel of your right foot so you’re on the ball of that foot. Slowly drop it down to the floor. Repeat 8 times. Then, with the heel lifted, roll the ball of the foot from side to side. Repeat on the other side.
In addition to developing flexibility in the forefoot, this exercise helps to stimulate the reflexology points in your feet that correspond to the heart and lungs—a great exercise to do prior to a cardio workout

Grip the ground with your toes and release. (Grip it rather than curl the toes under.) Repeat 4 times.
This exercise stimulates the movement of the arch lifting (called “doming”). 
Take a few minutes to do these moves each day. You should find this will improve your balance, flexibility and alignment so you’ll get more from whichever form of exercise you enjoy the most.
About Stacey Lei Krauss
Stacey Lei Krauss is an international fitness educator accredited with ACSM, ACE, AFAA, 10 years of dance training and over 20 years in the fitness industry.
Considered a pioneer of Foot Fitness, she was coined the "Barefoot Contessa" by Daily Candy, San Francisco, for her Sole Training® program. Since 2000, Stacey Lei has taught thousands of people how to strengthen and smarten their feet, eliminate foot pain, and enhance function and performance.

During the launch of the Nike Free (barefoot/natural) shoe in 2005, Stacey Lei was signed as a Nike Elite Instructor, and she continued her affiliation for six years. She programmed, scripted and recorded the Nike Anywhere, Anytime downloadable workouts, available at iTunes.
In 2011, after a decade of barefoot study, she joined the Vibram FiveFingers® team as Lead Fitness Advisor; writing education and programming to help consumers and athletes understand the concept of natural foot training and how to use Vibram FiveFingers® as a safe and efficient training tool.

Stacey Lei is the president of willPower productions, LLC., and the creator of The willPower Method. She is best known as the creator of the award-winning barefoot cardio-fitness program, willPower & grace®, which is represented by a global team of instructors and taught in fitness facilities around the world.  As a Reiki student and practitioner, she approaches exercise and movement through a functionally integrated body-mind-spirit practice.

Do you think barefoot-strengthening exercises are important for everyone? Have you tried the barefoot or minimalist shoe trend?

Photos provided by Stacey Lei Krauss/The willPower Method®.

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CECELW 12/21/2020
some of the comments about this article crack me up. People whine and complain about such trivial things Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks for this. I never thought about foot exercises! Good input! Report
Thanks! Report
again--the pictures are very specific which helps a lot! Report
Thank you Report
I love to walk. I will definitely give this one a try. Report
Thank you! Report
Learned some of these at physical therapy. Glad to learn more. Report
I have never thought about exercise for toes, thanks for this article. Report
Great info! Thank you! Report
I’m looking forward to trying all of these exercises, I’ve had toe pain for a long time and I never heard about this type of training until this article. Thank you! Report
valuable information, thanks. Report
Strong feet and ankles are very important. Report
Hope this helps my ankles too since I do have arthritis in one of my ankles. Report
Will certainly be trying these. I have numbness in both feet in the two middle toes. Hope this helps. Report
Thank You so very much!!! Report
I've noticed that, as I've started to really get into working out, my feet are often tired & achy, especially near the ball of the foot. I'm going to start doing these exercises to see if there's any improvement. Report
This came at the right time. My sister is having feet problems even as I write. We will start doing them today. Thank you! Report
I thank you and my feet thank you!! Report
I have so many problems with my feet hurting. Plus, I'm healing from a broken foot. I'm excited to see if these will work for me! Report
I'm going to try these exercises today. I hope I helps with the ache I sometimes have in my shins. Report
Since this article is *at least* five years old-comments from 2011!---how about a new one, by a podiatrist, that shows the current information??? There's no question that moving your feet around doing these exercises is not a bad thing....but the barefoot trend? Not so sure. AND...there are many of us who already had other foot problems which these exercises will not help or which prevent us from doing them! (Think bunions, hammertoes, neuromas....arthritis! sigh....) Report
I really like these moves, also! I haven't done them yet! But I will today when I do the rest of them! I hope everyone has a Blessed Day on the Lord's Day!
Linda! Report
I really like these moves. I can tell my feet are a bit stiff I can tell these will be good to do. Report
I have heel spurs/plantar fasciaitis in both feet and my first 5 minutes of movement in the morning or after a long sit are so painful. I'm so glad I saw this article - these exercises feel great!!! Report
My feet liked the exercises Report
Thank you Sparkspeople and Stacey Lei Krauss for presenting this article. I am using the exercises and considering going deeper into barefoot training. I've experienced painful swelling in my feet and soles of my feet daily fro over a year. Specialist cannot find answers so I am stepping into exercise as a solution. I am grateful! Report
Stumbled on this as my foot is aching today. Usually this is a signal that I need new shoes/orthotics but as I've only had my new shoes for a coupleof months I know this is not the case. Im going to start doing these exercises several times per day. Report
I like exercising barefoot much better than with shoes. I don't like how my feet feel when exercising in shoes. I would like to do these exercises to strengthen my feet more. Report
Awesome article! Report
I should do this often - Thanks! Report
This is great advice, thank you. I ride my bike a lot, but my ankles are weak and pop when I rotate them. I've considered physiotherapy because they're so weak, but I'll try these exercises first. Would I be able to do them at my desk? www.citadelphysio.com
Love the look of these and have just tried them out. I can feel that they may solve my minor problems with flexibility, strength of my feet and with balance which can only get worse as I get older (alreay 71). Look forward to seeing what the long term benefits are. Thanks for sharing it with us. Report
just what I need - I've been a no-heels person all my life, and a minimalist footwear user for about two years now - I have a little arthritis in my big toes and my feet can feel stiff in the mornings - I'm going to add these exercises to my daily routine. Report
I am definitely going to give these a try. I have flat feet and a weak (previously broken) ankle. I have tried wearing orthotics, but I don't like feeling dependent on them. I recently started wearing Soft Star shoes, which I guess are considered minimalist, and my feet are very happy. My chiropractor, however, wants me back in orthotics or committed to exercises. I told him just this week that I'd rather do exercises, and voila! there was your article. Please note that I am NOT a runner. I walk, I do yoga, and I swim.

Thanks for what appears to be a great article. BTW, I am 74, and I don't have a problem with the tattooed legs on the models. i wouldn't do it, and I sometimes wonder how these young women will feel about their tattoos when they are my age, but the reality is that it's just another beauty fad like teased hair, pierced eyebrows, 40's make-up, artificial finger nails, or running around bra-less. This too shall pass, but hopefully the benefits of these exercises will be around for a long time to come. Report
Reflexology? Really? Jeez. Report
I did develop plantar fasciitis in one foot when I trained for my first marathon.I do have orthotics now for my running shoes but I don't wear orthotic in all of my shoes.

Even not wearing shoes at home can help. As a kid growing up on a farm, we rarely wore shoes.

I'm not ready to "go minimal". I have weight to lose before that's a consideration. In the meantime, add these exercises to my yoga routine and overall disdain of wearing shoes, I will definitely be in better shape.

Good to read that others are finding benefit from the exercises. Report
This is an AWESOME workout for the feet and lower legs!
The links are all broken but I will keep this page bookmarked until I have these exercises memorized.
Thanks! Report
MAMAZON - It's not a model with tattooed legs, it's the blogger... look at her Bio pic.

Does anyone else have a problem with Great Toe Down? My toes aren't listening to what my brain is telling them to do. Report
Why in the world would you choose a model with tatooed legs? I find them distracting, to say the least.
For some reason, it appears the "willPower & Grace" links are broken. Report
thank you! i'm a runner, and i ran my first marathon this year using minimalist shoes. but this fall i injured my feet during a half marathon (almost certainly because despite all my running, i'm still 50lbs overweight) and have to nurse/push my feet back to health. i'll get right on these! Report
Wow! These are the most fun exercises I've ever done. Thanks! Report
I have plantar fascitis. Or however you spell it. I got sturdier shoes and arch supports recommended to me. After a few months I no longer had that incredible pain in my leg. The problem was that I could only wear certain shoes. After my bike collision my pain came back, and it is pretty much constant. I have worked my way up to changing shoes, and even getting into my heels and boots again. Since wearing sandals all summer and stretching often, my feet no longer hurt constantly. In fact I try to wear minimal shoes often and change my shoes around to keep my feet in an active mode. It really has helped my pain. Thanks for the new stretches. Report
I love those tats Report
I've debated for a long time if I ought to run barefooted (on the treadmill) but thought maybe it wasn't a wise idea. I had the misconception that the running shoe has support. Maybe I'll try it barefooted, now!
Are these for "barefoot" only or "in general" ??? Thanks for sharing!! Report
Same here, Frances-Agape. :/ Report
Just found this article and I loved the way the exercises made my feet and ankles feel Report
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