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Beyond "Stretch Your Toes": A Deeper Look at Foot Training for Dancers



The quest for beautiful "banana feet" is a common one in the dance world (especially ballet feet), but is it actually the most helpful goal? The truth is, the term "stretch your feet" often gets thrown around in dance studios without a clear understanding of the underlying mechanics.


While well-meaning teachers aim for pointed toes and strong plantar flexion, students (especially younger ones) can misinterpret this as literally needing to stretch their feet more often.


Here's the problem: excessive stretching of the foot and ankle joint can lead to instability, creating a dangerous foundation for dancers, particularly those on pointe. This instability increases the risk of injuries like ankle sprains/strains, tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis [1].


Shifting our language is crucial. Instead of the age-old "Stretch your toes," consider corrections like "Activate your feet" or "Flex your toes." This clarifies the desired action for dancers. If you find yourself constantly reminding students to "Stretch their toes," take a moment to address the entire class what activation patterns should be happening. Make it clear that we are not endorsing them to perform dangerous activities like sitting on feet, shoving feet under the couch, or using a foot stretching device.


The goal should be a balance of strength and mobility, allowing for optimal range of motion and technique in ballet and jazz.




Flat Feet and the Importance of Nuance


Now, let's address the question of flat-footed dancers: can they improve their arches? The answer is both yes and no. There's a distinction between a flexible flat foot and a rigid flat foot [2]. A flexible flat foot has some arch collapse when standing, but regains its arch form when the foot is not weight-bearing. In this case, strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles can help define the arch and improve the point in ballet or jazz [2].


However, a rigid flat foot has a limited arch even when not bearing weight. While training can improve strength and stability, it won't magically create a high arch due to the underlying bone structure [2].


The key takeaway? We can't change our basic anatomy, but we can strengthen the muscles and improve the appearance and function of the foot. So please, do not let the "MAGIC," foot exercises fool you on social media.


Building Strong, Stable Feet: A Sustainable Approach


My personal journey with dance is a testament to the importance of proper foot training. I used to have extremely flat and unstable feet, and all the stretching in the world only led to a string of injuries.


My feet before strength training & when I used foot stretchers (left & middle). My feet when I started cross-training (far right).


That's why I created my foot and ankle training course. It's not a quick fix, but it offers a safe and effective method for dancers to build a strong foundation for their feet. The course utilizes research and resources from my background as a physical therapist assistant and certified personal trainer, combined with years of dance instruction [3, 4]. It caters to dancers of all styles and focuses on:

  • Strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles for improved arch definition and point.

  • Developing balance and stability to reduce injury risk.

  • Alleviating foot pain caused by improper technique or overuse.


Ready to Take Control of Your Feet?

If you're a dancer who wants strong, pain-free feet and a solid foundation for your technique, I encourage you to explore my resources.


Take the First Step (For Free!)

Get started with my completely free training routine to experience the benefits of proper foot training firsthand! Click HERE to begin.



Unlock the Full Potential of Your Feet (With a Discount!)

For a deeper dive, consider enrolling in my comprehensive 6-week course. Use the code FOOTANDANKLE25 at checkout to receive 25% off!


Let's move beyond the myth of "stretching your feet" and empower dancers to build strong, stable foundations for a lifetime of joyful movement.



References:

  1. Frykberg, Robert T. "Dance Injuries of the Foot and Ankle." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 12, no. 6, 2002, pp. 449-459. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10740764/

  2. Jain, S., & Subramanian, S. (2016). Flatfoot in children: A review of current concepts. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, B, 25(2), 81–88. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684468/

  3. American Physical Therapy Association. "Foot and Ankle Conditions." https://www.apta.org/

  4. National Strength and Conditioning Association. "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning."

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