Stories from Dance Workouts

A ballerina’s stretching routine for strong, flexible feet

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsDecember 18, 2019

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Photo: Stocksy/Addictive Creatives

Ballet dancers possess a covetable mind-body connection. Even their feet seem to know exactly how to move. And Sarah James, a former professional dancer with the North Carolina Dance Theater and founder of Pilates by Sarah James, says there’s a reason why: dancers spend a lot of time stretching and strengthening their ankles, feet, and toes with resistance bands. If you’re wondering how to stretch your feet, James can teach you.

About one-fourth of the bones in the body are in the ankle and foot,” says James. “[Resistance band] exercises are good at making sure that your ankles are strong all the way around so you’re not rolling in or out on your foot and causing damage on the rest of the body. Having that awareness of that ankle alignment is going to help you in anything that you do—whether you run, or ski, or walk up the stairs.” In other words, whether you’re a professionally trained ballet dancer, someone who only busts a move at the club, or the kind of person that hates dancing, you could benefit from a dancer’s strengthening and stretching routine.

How to stretch your feet with resistance bands, according to real-life ballet dancers

1. Ball of the foot stretch

“Sit on the floor with one knee bent,” says Donna Flagg, a dancer and stretching instructor at Broadway Dance Center. “Hook the resistance band around the ball of your foot. You can hook the other end of the band around you knee or use your hands to pull it away from your foot. Then, you push the ball of your foot to the floor—against the band—and allow the band to pull your toes back toward your face. The more you pull the band toward your face, the more you should push down through the ball of your foot.”

2. toe stretch

From a sitting position, turn your attention to your toes. “Put the band over the tops of your toes and the rest of the band under your leg. Make sure the band is hooked over all five toes, then pull it toward your body and push against it with your toes. Try to reach your toes—especially the big toe—to the floor. Alert! If you are not used to doing this, your feet will cramp at first,” says Flagg.

3. Ankle stretch

From either a sitting or a standing position, Flagg and James recommend wrapping the band around the side of your foot, lifting the leg, holding the band, and pulling it toward you. “When you get it as high as it will go, roll the foot in at the ankle,” says Flagg.

4. bottom of the foot stretch

James raves about deep tissue spiky massage balls, which she uses to massage out her feet all. the. time. True to its name, the product massage the part of your body that may just work the hardest of all.

Now dance it out: 

A world-renowned ballerina swears by this strength training sequence. And if you’re about to stretch your hammies, don’t make these 3 mistakes

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