Why You Should Be Rolling Out Your Feet For Overall Well-Being
Our feet are the foundation of our body. Full stop.
Sure, we may be spending more time than ever stuck at our desks, but our feet carry all of the load of our body weight when we're upright and moving around. Because of the kinetic chain—aka the muscles, joints, and body segments that work together to initiate movement—the health of your foot and ankle joints directly affects the alignment of your knees, hips, back, and neck.
There are few reasons our alignment can be compromised: pronation or supination of the foot (the arch caving in or out—check the wear at the bottom of your shoes to see if this is happening); overexertion and fatigue; and even the type of footwear you use. This probably isn't the first time you've heard that heels are terrible for your alignment, but flip-flops and slides can be just as bad since they require the foot muscles to be "on" the entire time, which causes a lot of strain.
In addition to treating our tootsies to more supportive footwear, there's something else you can do to ground and relax the foot muscles. Let me introduce you to two strategies: practicing proper alignment, and treating yourself to self-myofascial release work (aka foam rolling). Supporting the feet with restorative exercises can help ease chronic aches and pains in the rest of your body—even in places like the pelvic floor. It can also lead to better core strength, along with better muscle tone and activation in the foot itself.
Ready to put these techniques into action? Below, I demonstrate how to find your proper alignment and how to roll out your feet for some relief.
Find proper "short foot" alignment.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart and a soft bend in the knees, try to distribute your weight equally between the big toe, pinkie toe, and heel of your foot (I visualize a tripod here).
- From there, try to shorten your foot without curling the toes or gripping the floor, almost as if you were using the arch to pick the floor off the ground. You'll feel the muscles of your foot kick on instantly, and it may even be harder to balance if you've gotten into a habitual pattern of collapsing these muscles.
- Tune in to this awareness when you're standing and during upright strength work—like squats, lunges, or single leg deadlift—to help reinforce this posture.
How to foam roll your foot.
- Standing or seated in a chair that allows you to have a 90-degree bend and the hips and knees with feet planted on the ground, place a tennis ball or massage ball under your right foot.
- Divide your foot into three vertical "lanes." The medial, or inner arch, the second and third toe/center of the foot, and the pinkie-toe side of the foot.
- Glide the ball up and down the sole of the foot, 10 times in each "lane."
- For more pressure, press the foot through the ball as if you're trying to push the ball into the ground. Repeat on the second foot.
- Tip: To see the difference, before rolling out the second side of your body—stand up between sides and notice the difference in body awareness and connectivity to the Earth in the "before" and "after."
These two tools can make a major difference in your alignment and body awareness. Regularly releasing your foot muscles is also a really great way to instantly ground yourself if you feel like you're a bit disconnected from your body due to stress or overwhelm. And—let's be honest—we could all probably use a bit more of that grounding in our life.
Helen Phelan is body neutral pilates instructor, intuitive eating coach, reiki practitioner, prenatal/postpartum corrective exercise specialist, and creator of Helen Phelan Studio, a virtual pilates studio app and community for womxn craving movement that feels amazing, minus the body shaming.