These school holidays, our senior ballet students have been issued a bit of a challenge, which, if done consistently, will greatly improve the strength and flexibility in their feet, especially on pointe.
Find a surface you can use as a barre (perhaps the back of a couch, or the kitchen bench, etc.), preferably somewhere on a wooden surface. Make sure you are not relying too heavily on your support. Do not perform this exercise on concrete!
With pointe shoes on and feet/legs warmed up, start in parallel position on the right foot. Place left foot in low retire beside your ankle bone. Plie/fondu and rise onto pointe, straightening the knee. Go slowly and focus on working the foot. Lower slowly.
Perform ten on each foot in parallel, then switch to turned out first and repeat, with the inactive foot in turned out retire on the back of the ankle or on the lower calf muscle.
Add one every day, i.e. the first day is ten each, the next eleven, then twelve, etc.
This exercise not only builds strength in the feet, but also in the calf muscle, greatly reducing the risk of injury - the Australian Ballet recently added this to their strengthening routine.
This exercise can be done anywhere (though, again, preferably not concrete), while you're watching tv or on FaceBook, or similar. You will need a small stress ball of minimal to medium resistance. They can be purchased from the local $2 dollar store - just make sure you can squeeze it easily.
You'll need a stress ball like this one
With bare feet, take the stress ball and place it under your little toe. Try to isolate the little toe and press down towards the floor, squeezing the stress ball. Rotate the ball a little to really activate the muscles. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the next toe. Repeat on all toes individually.
Next, gently roll the stress ball up and down the centre of your feet , doing much the same as you would do with a foot roller - you should still be squeezing the stress ball towards the ground, and try to maintain even pressure. Keep doing this for thirty seconds.
Switch to the outer foot, repeating the same action as before. Try not to overcompensate by rolling outwards, as this can train the muscles the wrong way. Remain there for thirty seconds, gently rolling the ball up and down.
Switch to the the inner foot - here it is especially important not to roll in, particularly if you already have a tendency to do so. Repeat the previous action, rolling the ball up and down, for thirty seconds.
To finish, roll the ball around the outside of your foot for thirty seconds, along the inside, past the toes, down the outside, and around the heel to repeat.
Done! Don't forget to repeat on the other foot.
This exercise takes a little while to perform, but the results are definitely worth it. The ball gently stretches the muscles in your feet, allowing greater flexibility, and strengthening the metatarsals. You should start to notice that the arch of your foot and your normal point becomes more pronounced. This exercise should not hurt - if it does, you may have a muscle in your foot (likely the inner arch) which is a little too short. Do not panic! Reduce the amount of time spent rolling the muscle out and work up to thirty seconds gradually.
Bonus: Exercise #3
This exercise is not officially a part of the challenge, but I thought I'd include it for those interested. You will need a wooden or otherwise smooth floor and a small piece of cloth - a flannel, tea towel, or fabric scrap will do nicely.
Try the first section of the exercise sitting down to begin with (you may try it standing if you prefer). With bare feet in parallel, place the cloth just in front of your foot. Using one foot at a time, use your toes to grip the fabric and move it backwards under the foot. Repeat the action until your foot cannot reach the cloth anymore. Repeat with the other foot. Do three times on each side.
The next part you can try standing if you like. Using the same toe action as before, pick up the cloth from the floor with your foot and release. Repeat as many times as you like.
The exercise strengthens the foot much like the previous one, but allows for a little more freedom of movement.
Here's a handy video if those instructions were a little confusing:
Good luck, girls! I look forward to hearing about your results from Alison when you come back to class in Term 3.
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified physiotherapist and recommend these exercises only from personal experience. If you experience any difficulty with these exercises or suspect you have an foot injury, please seek professional help before attempting them.