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How to Strengthen Feet & Ankles

Once you start pointe work, you’ll probably realize that your feet and ankles are nowhere near as strong as you’d like them to be; relevés that were simple enough on flat seem terrifying, while pointing your feet in tendus becomes a constant struggle between you and your shank.

But before you hang up your pointe shoes, give these strengthening exercises a try. You may be surprised at how fast you—and your feet—see results!

Theraband Up, Body Down

The best way to start strengthening your feet is to grab your theraband and go to the floor. Though you will eventually be able to work at the barre on flat, then pointe, it is best to learn the fundamentals on the floor.

This does not mean, however, that the following exercises will be easy. Perform the routine below to strengthen your lower legs, ankles, and feet.

Point, Flex

  1. Wrap the theraband around the ball of one foot, with your knees straight and legs out in front of you in a pike position. Make sure your back is upright and you’re sitting tall.
  2. Pulling the theraband taut with your arms, slowly point and flex your foot 32 times against the resistance of the theraband.
  3. Switch the theraband to the other foot and repeat.

Wing

  1. To wing, wrap the theraband around the ball of one foot like in the previous exercise.
  2. Pull the band toward the inside of your foot, in the direction of your free leg.
  3. Step on the band with your free foot to hold it down.
  4. Using the resistance provided by your arms and foot, wing your foot by rotating it outward against the band.
  5. Repeat 32 times, then switch feet.
Hot Tip: Different Strokes, Different Pointes

You can do the wing and sickle exercises with your foot pointed or flexed. Try a set of each—whichever position feels more difficult and tiring is the one you should be doing, as it means you’re getting more of a workout in your muscles.

 

Sickle

  1. Wrap the theraband around the ball of your foot.
  2. Pull the band across the outside of your foot, away from both legs.
  3. Cross your free foot over your working foot and step on the band with it.
  4. Sickle your foot away from the band, using the resistance to work your muscles.
  5. Repeat 32 times, then switch feet.

On the Floor

Add to your resistance training and transition into bare feet by working on the floor without your theraband. This will allow you to get a feel for the active muscle tension you should have in your feet and legs at all times during class, but without the stress of your resistance band.

Give these simple exercises a shot!

Roundabouts

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you in a pike position, spine upright, and knees straight.
  2. With both ankles, make circles en dehors (outward), reaching a flexed position at beginning and end, and pointing as your circle goes down to the floor.
  3. Repeat 32 times, then make circles en dedans, circling your ankles inward.

Toe Sit-Ups

  1. Sit on the floor in pike position, legs straight, spine lifted.
  2. Point both feet down to the floor.
  3. Flex just your toes, leaving your ankles pointed by pushing them outward and forcing your arch into a vertical position.
  4. Flex and point your toes, keeping the ankles pointed.
  5. Repeat 32 times.

Turn Outs

  1. Begin in a pike position, legs straight, spine lifted.
  2. Slowly point your feet, going through a strong and defined demi pointe.
  3. Rotate your feet into first position, keeping them pointed.
  4. Hold the position for eight slow counts.
  5. Flex your feet, then turn then in.
  6. Hold the flexed position for eight slow counts.
  7. Repeat 16 times, then reverse. Start turned out with feet flexed, then turn in with feet pointed.

Barre Work

After gaining strength and stability in your feet, legs and ankles through floor and theraband exercises, move to the barre for standing positions.

Here are some great exercises to help you transition.

Relevés and Elevés

  1. Start facing the barre in sixth (parallel) position.
  2. Engage your abdominals and keep your legs straight, spine lifted and shoulders pressed down.
  3. Plié slowly for four counts.
  4. Take four counts to return to straight legs.
  5. Rise up to ¾ pointe and hold for eight counts.
  6. Come back down to standing position in four counts.
  7. Repeat eight times, then remove the plié, taking eight-count balance elevés.
  8. Repeat all of the above in first, second, and fifth position.

One Foot Relevés

  1. Begin facing the barre in fifth position. Keep your spine lifted, shoulders down, and butt muscles engaged to hold your turnout.
  2. Tendu séconde with one foot, then place it in fondu derriere.
  3. Plié, keeping the position.
  4. Go through straight legs and relevé up, still holding the fondu derriere position.
  5. Repeat 16 times, then switch legs.

Slow Tendus

  1. Start with one hand on the barre in first position. Keep your spine lifted and abdominals engaged.
  2. Take a 16-count tendu devant, pushing your foot to the floor for as long as possible. Push your heel forward and toes back, working through the muscles of the foot and demi pointe to reach a fully pointed tendu.
  3. Hold the tendu for four counts, then reverse and take 16 to come back.
  4. Repeat en croix eight times, then switch sides.

Treat Your Toes!

Strengthen your feet with these exercises every day, whether before or after class, at home, or while sitting in the park. Just make sure to take good care of your tootsies by massaging and soaking them afterwards!

Whether your ankles are super stiff or beautifully bendy, strengthening them will improve your ballet technique a ton. Learn how with these simple at-home exercises!
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