One of the main pursuits of our job is to stand on our toes…. that’s insane. It sounds like torture, doesn’t it? But it’s not. We love what we d, and we fight to keep doing it as much as we possibly can. However, in order to keep dancing as long as possible, you have to take care of your feet! This blog post will detail the strains that are put on your feet, how to prevent injury, and how to improve your arch flexibility and foot strength.
Strengthening For Injury Prevention
The first tactic to preserve your feet and maintain their strength is to prevent them from getting injured. This is a very basic concept. Every dancer should know that if you keep your body from getting hurt, it is easier to strengthen it, stretch it and keep working to improve your dancing.
The best thing you can do for injury prevention is to make sure you stay strong: work towards stabilization so that you can properly support the movements you do and avoid damage to tendons and ligaments. Some of the basic areas to strengthen are listed below:
- abdominals (transversus abdominis)
- hips (quadratus femoris)
As is evident in the list above, foot injuries don’t necessarily occur because of a lack of strength or flexibility in the foot. It is often other parts of the body that fail to give support so that the foot in turn has to compensate. It’s a tricky concept to grasp, but it’s very important to know.
As far as specific foot strengthening goes, one of my favorite tools is the Theraband™. Strengthening your ankles – meaning the entire top of the foot, down to the toes (the intrinsic muscles between them really) and both sides of the foot – should help keep them more stable when en pointe.
I have an entire Foot Workout and Ankle Stabilization Workout for you to utilize, in addition to a Strengthening Guide with multiple exercises for you to try out. You will find exercises to strengthen different parts of your body, but make sure you are also using materials readily available to you to improve your technique.
Massage For Injury Prevention
You can’t think of stretching as your only option to improve flexibility and release knotted muscles… you would be missing one of the greatest tools out there available to dancers: massage! Dancers nowadays use this technique, also known as rolling out, constantly to help relax their muscles after a long day of ballet and above all, to prevent injury. Here are some ideas for rolling out:
- Use a tennis ball on your glutes, turnout muscles and hip flexors
- Use a foam roller for your back, inner thighs and quads
- Use a tennis or lacrosse ball while sitting in a chair for your hamstrings
- Use a small bouncy ball or tennis ball for your calves
- Use a small bouncy ball for your arches
While it is effective to roll out all of the muscle areas to prevent foot injuries, as it releases pressure from the ankle en pointe, massaging your calves and arches is a vital process to enable your feet to function properly.
Foot Stretching vs. Foot Stretchers
I hope to do a full blog post on this soon, but I wanted to touch on one of my most hated tools of all the ballet tools: foot stretchers!
These medieval torture contraptions do not stretch your feet, they rip apart tendons and ligaments! The only way to safely stretch your feet for ballet is a gentle push by a friend, or by stretching gently with a Theraband™.
These gentle stretches work much better to safely increase foot flexibility because you don’t have to be concerned with pulled tendons and ligaments, and it is much easier to control your own stretch and the amount of pain you want to inflict on yourself.
In fact, it is more effective in my experience for arch flexibility if you stretch the other way, by flexing your foot. Stretching your calves and Achilles tendon relieves pressure from the ankle and prevents tightness and constriction in the back of your ankle from limiting your range of motion.
Improving Your Feet
Every dancer wants to get better feet… the dreamy arches (see below) and puffed out insteps… It’s on every dancer’s wishlist. Because of this, dancers tend to resort to extreme measures so that they can increase their foot flexibility, when really it is strengthening exercises that they need to embark on.
As I mentioned above, foot stretching is effective when you do it gently, with care and order, but foot stretchers and other extreme measures never, ever work! Take what I say below to your heart:
The only way to get better feet is to strengthen them with the Theraband™.
I won’t say any more on this subject. You just need to listen to what I say above!
I hope you enjoy this post all about improving your feet and preventing injury, and I’ll see you on Wednesday with more.