Foot and Toe Exercises With a Towel
Athletes, dancers and waitresses share the need for strong, flexible feet. If you, too, demand a lot from the tiny muscles that help support your weight, propel you forward, and keep you balanced, you'll benefit from foot exercises. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes, at least three times a week, for a thorough foot and toe workout. A simple hand towel is all you need to get the job done.
The tiny, intrinsic muscles of your foot -- the interossei and lumbricals -- work jointly with the longer, extrinsic muscles of the lower leg. The intrinsic muscles help with foot and toe articulation and contribute to overall foot and arch stability. Towel scrunches are ideal for activating these muscles. While sitting in a chair with your knees bent, spread out a small hand towel on the floor near your feet. Using your toes, repeatedly grab and release the towel, drawing it toward the base of the chair. For best results, work on a smooth floor so you'll have an easier time manipulating the towel. To add intensity, place a small hand weight or other weighted object on the far end of the towel.
Dragging the towel sideways challenges the muscles along the inner and outer sides of the foot. Begin seated in a chair with a towel spread out on the floor in front of your feet. Keeping your heel on the floor, rotate your right forefoot to the right. Using the ball of the foot, drag the towel to the left, working the medial muscles of the foot. After completing a set of 10 repetitions, reverse the direction of the movement to work the lateral side of the foot. Rotate the forefoot to the left and use the ball of the foot to drag the towel repeatedly to the right. Switch to your left foot.
Towel Stretch for Calves
Stretching the muscles that assist dorsiflexion -- the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf -- improves foot and ankle mobility. To lengthen and loosen the gastrocnemius, which is the more prominent of the the two calf muscles, sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Loop the middle of the towel around the sole of your right foot and fully extend the leg. When you draw back on the ends of the towel, you should feel mild to moderate tension along the back of the lower leg. Repeating the exercise with the working knee bent targets the deeper-lying soleus. Complete two to four reps of each stretch with both legs, holding every stretch for up to 30 seconds.
Toe Flexor Stretch
Use your towel to isolate and gently stretch the muscles responsible for toe flexion. While seated in a chair with your feet on the floor in front of you, loop the towel under the toes of your right foot. Keeping the ball of the foot firmly on the floor, pull up gently on the ends of the towel. Work only the toes, pulling them toward your shin.
Tips and Considerations
Before working with a towel, remove your shoes and socks. Working barefoot allows you to articulate all parts of the feet, enabling you to move the foot and toes through their full range of motion. Warm up your feet by prancing lightly in place for several minutes, and then perform the alphabet exercise, "drawing" the letters of the alphabet in the air with your big toe. When you use a towel, concentrate on isolating your feet and toes and avoid movement elsewhere in your body. If you've injured your foot, toe or ankle in the past, speak to your doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer about the advisability of particular exercises. Working out too soon after such an injury can result in re-injury and long-term damage.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.