Tips & Exercises for Healthy, Pain-Free Feet

Aimee CoustierView post →

shoes pinch foot nervesMost footwear today attacks from all angles. From narrow toe boxes, to raised heels, to cushioned soles and stiff arches—our feet are subject to all sorts of confinement and artificial support. Most shoes go way beyond the innocent intention of providing protection from hazards underfoot, and creep into ‘foot cast’ territory. [1]

 Not only are these features harmful, they can also cause pain and soreness.

What can you do to help your feet? Cue “toe-ga”

"Toe-ga": Tips & Exercises for Healthy, Pain-Free Feet

Can you intentionally move certain toes? Toe “yoga” exercises are great for improving dexterity and reducing the occurrence of injury.

Our feet are fine-tuned instruments perfected by millions of years of evolution. Sadly, the use of modern footwear and orthotics has changed how we use our feet, leading to foot pain and problems. [2]

Just like any of our lost primal skills, it takes time and patience to re-develop the skills, muscles and biomechanics (a fancy word for how your body moves) to get back to your body’s original design. Here are some easy foot exercises you can try at home to help restore mobility and soothe pain:

tennis ball foot exerciseAn easy at-home trick to strengthen and soothe your feet is to work the fascia with a tennis ball. Try rolling out bottom of your feet, calves, and achilles tendon with either a tennis or a golf ball.

foot flexion toe extensionWearing shoes limits your range of motion. Be sure to exercise your toes' full range of extension and flexion. Practice lifting and flexing your toes in new ways to build strength and proprioception.

You can also try walking short distances on natural uneven terrain totally barefoot to help work the fascia and receive a sensational reflexology treatment. Whenever you aren't barefoot, choose minimalist footwear that lets your feet FEEL.

resistance band foot trainingUsing a resistance band (thick rubber band) in toe-lift exercises can help realign the big toe and build up the muscles in the foot.
Put the band around your big toes. Alternate between: 

  • Keeping big toes on the ground and raising your other toes.
  • Lift big toes into the air, and keep other toes flat on the ground.
    New to Minimalist Footwear? Prepare Your Feet.

    While good minimalist footwear mimics being barefoot, if you are used to wearing standard modern shoes, the way you use your feet has most likely been altered. Stiff shoes with cushioned soles limits range of motion and leads to heel-striking. [3]

    A few tips for Transitioning to Minimalist Footwear:
      • First off, slow and steady wins the race. Undoing years of altered movement cannot be done overnight. It takes time to re-develop the lower leg and foot muscles and biomechanics needed to wear minimalist footwear. 
      • Practice walking then running with a forefoot or mid-foot strike. This walking and running style uses your foot and lower leg muscles as shock absorbers.
      • To help prepare your feet (and useful if you experience soreness or muscle tightness down the line), try some of the foot exercises and 'toe-ga' outlined above.
      • Learn more here:  5 Tips to Transition to Minimalist Sandals Safely.

    reflexology foot sole treatment

    2. Lieberman et. al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature. 2010 28;463(7280):531-5.

    Natural Movement Q&A with Stefano Tripney MovNat® Certified Trainer

    Colin EvansView post →
    Natural Movement Q&A with Stefano Tripney MovNat® Certified Trainer

    Tell us a bit about you & your projects?

    I believe that people have lost touch with what it means to be a fully functional human being. We've adapted to live in a very forgiving urban environment and as a result have become frail and fragile versions of what we are truly capable of. My goal is to create a more healthful lifestyle by simultaneously adding a variety of movement possibilities into their daily life and encouraging increased interaction with their environment. I encourage frequency over intensity and promote movement in the home, training space, outdoor urban landscapes and ultimately the natural environment. Contextual Movement represents the culmination of my knowledge and skill sets from a wide variety of disciplines: martial arts, Movnat, conventional fitness modalities, outdoor activities, and more. It's about mindful movement in relation to ever changing environments and situations.

    What are some of your philosophies that motivate and guide your fitness and lifestyle?

    I strive to become a "More Capable Human" and instill this concept and ideal within my community and abroad. I want it to permeate our culture and become an ethos of sorts. I value both the ideas of practicality and play; striving to nurture adaptive and useful tools while maintaining a positive, encouraging, and exciting experience of self discovery.

    movnat sandals - earth runners

    How long have you been wearing Earth Runners? What made you decide to give them a try?

    I started using my Earth Runners around June, 2015. I had been very interested in the work by biomechanist and author, Katy Bowmen, and just finished reading "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall and was intrigued by the footwear worn by the characters in the book. I also despise conventional running shoes and footwear in general during the warm summer months. When I saw these on the Earth Runners' Instagram account it didn't take me long to print out the size chart and place the order! 

    hiking sandals - earth runners

    What do you like best about them? How do Earth Runners affect your movement practice?

    The day they arrived I strapped them on and went out for a "little" run. As I started to get a feel for them the run quickly morphed into a complex trail/obstacle boogie! I was soon leaping over rocks, vaulting over fallen trees, jumping onto and scrambling over boulders. It was no longer a matter of what they could do but rather a test to find the limits as to what they couldn't! I have the video to prove it! I've since hiked and run in the Canadian Rockies, hiked and camped in the old growth forests of Vancouver Island, ran beaches and climbed various structures in Italy and northern Europe, explored the ancient landscapes of the Alberta Badlands, and evaded cacti and snakes in the deserts of New Mexico all while wearing my Earth Runners!huaraches sandals - earth runners

    They are also my daily footwear all throughout the warmer months up here in Canada. However, coupled with the Earth Runners wool socks, they also come out for milder, snow-less days during the fall and winter!

    Stefano Tripney

    Stefano Tripney - Contextual Movement Coach
    Level 3 MovNat® Certified Trainer

    Natural Movement Q&A with Curtis Hall of BAREfit

    Colin EvansView post →
    Natural Movement Q&A with Stefano Tripney MovNat® Certified Trainer

    Tell us a bit about you and your projects - what got you into fitness? And, what is BAREfit?

    What eventually became BAREfit, began in my independent study class at the University of Louisville where I  studied Exercise Science. During my independent study, I researched and designed training programs that were specific to rock climbing -a sport I had recently developed a passion for. Throughout my research, I began to discover a huge lack of fitness programs that catered towards outdoor adventure sports and training. I then realized that I could develop programming to fit that specific need.

    The necessity for movement and exercise was instilled in me at a young age as I grew up playing team sports. In high school, I found that I enjoyed coaching and training others just as much as playing the actual sports themselves. By senior year it was clear that I wanted to study Exercise Science in order to further enhance my knowledge and skills so that I could better help others succeed in their fitness and sports goals. In college, I transitioned from traditional team sports into the realm of outdoor adventure & endurance sports such as trail running, mountain biking, cycling, rock climbing, paddling, etc. In addition, I also worked with youth in outdoor based team building and leadership development. I graduated in 2009 with my Exercise Science degree and then went on to receive my NSCA CSCS certification. During this time I worked in both the outdoor and fitness industries, seeking to understand and work out what a training program for outdoor adventure sports would look like. My active upbringing, participation in sports, passion to teach, exposure to outdoor adventure sports, volunteer work with youth, and experience in the work force all greatly influenced the formation of BAREfit.

    BAREfit became official around 3 years ago through my partnership with Rob Bratcher, a good friend and veteran of the fitness industry. We teamed up with a vision to create a fitness company that used all reclaimed, upcycled and repurposed materials. The use of these real world materials would help people train in ways that are applicable to outdoor adventure in addition to conserving the environment. We also had a vision of promoting a minimalist plant based lifestyle along with providing a solution to the need for outdoor sports training.

    Our training model includes mostly small group training with a focus on developing natural movement, strength, mobility, flexibility, durability, balance, and outdoor skills like: climbing, jumping, landing, crawling etc. This style of training helps client’s performance abilities in outdoor sports and adventure as well as makes them happier, healthier and more capable humans in general. We also focus on corrective exercise since body misalignment is a pervasive issue within modern society. Overall, we just had a passion to accurately tend to the needs of our clients, help them achieve their fitness goals –especially those with interests in outdoor adventure sports- and promote health and wellness through a loving community.

What are some of your philosophies that motivate and guide your fitness and lifestyle?

    I believe that all humans were designed to create, move, enjoy & explore nature. I also believe that humans were created to be in community with each other. When this is not the case, a person’s physical, mental, spiritual and relational health is negatively impacted. One of the biggest ways I've pursued this philosophy is, along with my wife Janae, moving into the developing urban neighborhood of Shelby Park. We are within walking/cycling distance of work, friends, food, green spaces, our church, and of course, BAREfit. This creates, for us, a platform for an active lifestyle in a community that supports us, where we can serve.   

    BAREfit, is essentially an extension of these philosophies. The WORKsite (our gym), also in Shelby Park, happens to be the only fitness space in the neighborhood. We were passionate about incorporating a taste of the outdoors in this unique urban setting in order to give those that already love nature a respite from the city and help develop that love in those it has yet bloom.

    How long have you been wearing Earth Runners? What made you decide to give them a try?

    I've been wearing Earth Runners for almost a year. I've spent the past 5 years transitioning to more minimal footwear and discovering how less really is more when it comes to shoes. Minimal footwear and developing natural running form has allowed me to adventure by foot in ways clunky, overly padded shoes never could.

    About 2 year ago I began the search for a minimalist running sandal (I used to live in Chacos, but they felt like wearing bricks by this point) because my feet have never been happy in closed toed shoes. I eventually discovered Huaraches and looked into the different options, but none of them really hit the mark for me. I even made a few pair of my own, but wasn't able to get the design exactly right for my feet. Earthrunners actually discovered me via Instagram and started liking and commenting on my posts. Through these interactions, I ordered my first pair and knew I'd found my sandal. The top notch materials, the hand crafted quality, the sleek and minimalist single strap design, the conductive sole/straps, and the custom fit bested anything else I could buy or make.

What do you like best about them? How do Earth Runners affect your movement practice?

    When I'm wearing my Earth Runners, I often forget I'm wearing anything at all. They form to my feet and protect them from pointy objects on the ground, but are otherwise invisible, which is the highest praise for any minimalist footwear.

    My Earth Runners make me more mindful of what’s around me. I tread lighter and more intentionally. Since my feet are more exposed, I've become more connected with the ground, the roots, the rocks, the plants that make up the trails that I explore. My feet and ankles have become stronger. My proprioception and body awareness has also certainly increased.

    Earth Runners are designed to support natural movement and connection with the earth. What are some of your favorite ways to connect with nature?

    I love trail running and exploring local trails with my wife. I love finding new ways to traverse trails using rocks, trees and roots to find my path.

    Rock climbing in the Red River Gorge is also a favorite activity and Earth Runners make great approach footwear.

    I also enjoy working out in nature. Finding new spaces and using whatever rocks, limbs, hills, etc. are around to design adventure inspired workouts.

    My Earth Runners sandals not only make all of these adventures easier on my body- but a ton of fun too!

    Curtis Hall - Head Creative Force
    BAREfit: Adventure Training