You might not think of your feet as a part of the body in need of stretching, but in fact, a stretch can really help your feet stay fit.
The muscles in your feet have a close relationship with those in your legs: Pain in the leg muscles makes it hard for foot muscles to (comfortably) do their job, and vice versa. Also, many stretching exercises benefit both the feet and the lower legs. Rochelle Rice Cutro, a New York City exercise instructor and creator of a fitness lifestyle program called "In Fitness and In Health," suggests these stretches for this stressed-out area of the body.
Note: These exercises are best practiced at home, but see the previous page for easy stretches you can do while sitting behind a desk.
Lunge: From a standing position, with your feet together and toes pointing forward, "lunge" forward with your right foot. Keep your knees bent and your chest up as you lunge. Be sure your right heel strikes the floor before the rest of the foot. And be sure that you keep your right knee aligned above your right ankle; do not bend your right knee so far that it extends forward beyond the ankle. Return to the normal standing position. Repeat 11 more times; then lunge 12 times with the left foot. To increase the intensity of this stretch, do lunges onto a step or small platform.
Tendon Stretch: Stand with both feet on a step or a phone book, with your heels extending beyond the edge of the step. You may want to hold onto something to keep your balance as you shift your weight toward your heels and gently stretch the muscles and tendons in the back your lower leg.
Towel Lift: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your left knee and put your left foot flat on the floor. Place a towel around your right ankle. Grasping the ends of the towel, use it to pull your right leg up. Keep your right leg straight and keep your buttocks on the floor as you do so. Hold the stretch for several seconds; then lower your leg to the floor. Repeat with the left leg.
"V" Stretch: Sit on the floor and place your legs out in front of you in a "V" shape. Turn your torso to the right and place your hands on the floor -- one hand on either side of your right thigh. Roll your left hip and your left toes inward, so that the inside of your left foot is resting on the floor and the toes of your left foot are pointing toward your right leg. You should feel a stretch in the inner side of your left thigh. Release the stretch, and then repeat the exercise in the opposite direction, with your hands next to your left thigh and your torso turned to the left.
Knee Hug: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Cross your right leg over your left, with your right knee bent. Hug your right leg to your chest. After putting your right leg back on the floor, cross your left leg over and repeat the hug.
Quad Stretch: Stand behind a chair with your left hand on the back of the chair to help you maintain your balance. Bend your right knee, raise your right foot up behind you, and grasp the right foot with your right hand. Gently pull upward on the foot until it reaches the buttocks. Hold it there for several seconds. You should feel a stretch in the large muscle at the front of your thigh. (Do not arch your back as you do this exercise.) Place your right foot back on the floor, and repeat the stretch with the left foot.
Crouch: Stand in front of a stable chair and hold your arms straight out in front of you (parallel to the floor). Gradually begin to sit down -- but stop before your buttocks touch the chair. Your weight should be on your heels; your arms should help you maintain your balance. Stand up again slowly and repeat. Rest, then do another two sets.
Towel Scrunch: Sit on a chair and place your bare feet on the floor. Pretend you have a towel under your toes; draw the towel in toward your heels by scrunching your toes. Then reverse the exercise by using your toes to push the imaginary towel out and away from the heel. Do this ten times with each foot.
Towel Scoop: Sit on a chair and place your bare feet on the floor. Use the outer part of your foot to scoop the imaginary towel in toward your arches. Then use the inner part of your foot to smooth the towel back out. Do this ten times with each foot.
All this stretching may have you feeling like a workout, and it's important to take care of your feet while exercising, too. Continue to the next page to learn more.
To learn more about treating and avoiding problems with your feet, visit: