We've heard many of our pole teachers shout this during class even when you think your toes are pointed… it's not enough!
When it comes to exercise, most people overlook two of the most important parts of their body — their feet. They train upper body, lower body, and core without even thinking to strengthen their feet. Having recently competed in Pole Theatre, a key part of my training was to improve the pointe in my feet as well as strengthen my ankles to avoid sickling (explained later), mainly because I did not want any pictures or the video to come back showing flexed feet or half a pointed toe! (Some would call this vain but I call it being a perfectionist!).
As a child, I was very passionate about ballet, starting at the age of 3 and continuing to take Royal Academy of Dance exams each year through to pointe work as well as auditioning for Royal Ballet School at the age of 8. Ballet was my life, until I was bullied by boys at secondary school for being a ballet dancer (kids can be so cruel!).
After moving to other forms of studying dance in my teenage years, I always secretly kept my love for ballet and the foundations of my training stayed with me, even to evolving into pole dancing as an adult.
Each time I think about improving my pointe and ankle strength, I revert back to ballet training. Not many people know this but (warning….geeky fact!) the feet are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Most toe pointing exercises are focused on the larger extrinsic muscles but more focus should be made on the smaller intrinsic muscles which are deeper, and just a few simple concentrated exercises can have a greater effect on improving the look and strength of a pointed toe.
I have pulled together a few of my favourite pointe work strengthening exercises that I like to do at home or at the gym; each tap into the intrinsic muscles and are easy enough to do every day or as part of your pole training sessions.
First thing to mention is that, just like pole, feet strengthening is not something that should be approached with speed as it can create a problem that sets you back; slow build up and consist application of exercises will help keep your feet healthy and strong in the long term.
Also, our feet are very delicate and as we use them every day it is important to train them safely. In the same way we approach stretches with our body, only push yourself to the level you can handle. It should be a weirdly satisfying pain to stimulate a positive change; if you begin to feel pain that is bracing, retracting, or defending against the stretch…take it back a notch.
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat to the floor in parallel (straight).
- Dome the arch in your foot, pulling your heels towards your toes in a small, slow & controlled motion. Avoid moving your leg forward, concentrate only on the toes in an inch-worm style movement.
- Repeat 10 times
- For a deep stretch, add weight by performing heel pulls while stranding.
Élevé with a Ball
- Place a ball in between the feet near the heels (the soft part just beneath the ankles)
- Squeeze the ball gently between your feet and slowly rise up to demi-pointe (the balls of your feet) moving through each section of your feet before getting to demi-pointe. Actively maintain your alignment by focusing on keeping your weight balanced as you rise up and down. If this is hard to start with, you can begin the exercise holding on to a wall but try to aim putting your weight gradually into your feet.
- Lower with the same tension on the ball and repeat 20 times.
- Slowly work the descent so that the muscles are eccentrically active, I tend to count three seconds up and six seconds down
Point & Flex
You will need a stretch band for this. I bought mine from eBay but there are lots available online.
- Sit on the floor with your knees straight and legs out straight in front of you.
- Wrap the stretch band around the ball of one foot then keep your back upright, sit tall and pull the band with your arms.
- Slowly point and flex your foot against the resistance of the band and repeat 32 times
Winging is also called Eversion and concentrates on pushing the foot outwards whilst toes are pointed, giving a wing-shaped effect, exercising this muscle will help improve lines as well as avoiding sickling.
-Sit on the floor with your knees straight and leg out in front of you.
-Wrap the stretch band around the ball of one foot, keeping your back upright, sit tall and pull the band toward the inside of your foot, in the direction of your free leg.
-Step on the band with your free foot to hold it down and using the resistance, wing your foot by rotating it outward against the band,
-Repeat 32 times and then change feet.
Sickling is also known as inversion and is a ballet term used to describe a dancer's foot that is incorrectly pointed, causing it to look curved inwards when looking at the line of the dancer's leg. This is generally seen as being aesthetically unpleasing to the eye, but also a dancer is more prone to injuries when sickling because of the slanted alignment in the foot when on demi-point or landing from a jump. To avoid sickling, you have to train the muscle groups both winging and sickling stretches so that you can actively feel when the foot is sickled during a performance or training.
- Wrap the stretch band around the ball of one foot, keeping your back upright, sit tall and pull band across the outside of your foot, away from both legs
- Cross your free foot over your working foot and step on the band with it to create the resistance,
- Sickle your foot inwards away from the band, repeat 32 times and then change feet.
One of the more traditional ballet exercises, battements tendus build strength and coordination of the feet. For this you can use a pole, a barre on the wall, or a chair.
- Start with one hand on the pole/chair/barre and put your feet in first position (heels together, toes turned out). Keep your spine lifted and abdominals engaged.
- Take 16 counts and slowly push your foot out in front of you, pushing your foot through the floor so that each part of your foot touches it. Push your heels forward and your toes back, working through the muscles of the foot and demi-point to then reach a fully pointed tendu. Only point your toes after you have fully pointed your ankle. This isolates the muscles in the foot and strengthens them.
- Hold the tendu for four counts, then reverse and take 16 counts to return back.
- Repeat the same exercise 8 times to the front, to the side and to the back and then switch legs.
This is my favourite exercise to do, mainly because you can do this anywhere and at any time and it's great for improving your range of motion in the feet and ankles, but also because, in a weird geeky kind of way, it's fun to think up words to write with your feet! Ha!
- Sitting down, or laying on your back, extend your leg into the air
- Using just your foot, extend out to pointes and then try to draw each letter of the alphabet whilst keeping your toes pointed. Try not to move the entire leg, keep the movement isolated to just the foot and ankle.
- Try making big letters as well as small ones, once you have finished one foot repeat exactly the same words and letters on the other foot.
Towel CurlsThis exercise is quite a common one, but it really helps with strengthening your foot muscles. When I snapped my toe in half, I used this exercise to gain my muscle strength back and the results were brilliant!
- Stretch a hand towel on the floor in front of you.
- Place your bare foot on the end of the towel, keeping your heel on the floor
- Curl your toes to bunch up the towel and drag it towards you.
- Stretch out your toes and then grasp another bit of the towel to curl. Continue this on both feet until you have bunched up the whole towel
Hope you enjoyed reading my favourite foot stretches, follow my profile for more pole and dance related guides coming soon!