Raise your…foot

If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Alignment Snacks: Stretching the Standing Muscles.

As a kid, did you have a Barbie doll? I did. What was up with her feet? It’s like she was designed to wear high heels with everything, including her bathrobe. And while Barbie seems like a freak of nature, I’d like you to take a moment to get your feet in the air and check out your own freakiness.

No, really. Do it. It’s mind-blowing.

Check out my feet:

And my soccer-star huz’s feet. This guy has spent a lot of time on his toes and also has clubs for shins. Really. You can crack a coconut open by banging it on his lower leg.

He married me for the calf-stretch, I am sure. He also wears black socks a lot.

Check out da baby’s feet — so hard to catch in their totally-relaxed position!

You can also check out my super-awesome photo-shop skills where I removed my breast from the picture. Please email me if you’d like me to do a high-end graphic arts project for you. I’m available and inexpensive.

Ever seen that perfect baby squat? The one with vertical shins and a sort of “I can be down here all day” attitude?

I know, I know. Our chair-lovin’ hips just don’t open up enough to keep those shins vertical. You’re working on it. But in addition to those hips, how about those shoe-wearin’ calves? Most of us don’t even have a resting 90° at the ankle so that vertical shin is going to be impossible to hold without the knee moving forward to force it down!

Want to evaluate how much tension is in your lower leg?

Lie on your back bringing your knees toward your chest until your shins are vertical. If your hamstrings are tight, place a pillow underneath your low back. Now, completely relax your toes, feet, calves, ankles, and forehead. No forcing your foot into position! Also, make sure your tongue’s not sticking out.

Have someone snap a picture or look in a mirror. The angle between your foot and your shin is created by how much tension lives in your calves.

What’s it mean?

If you’ve got an ankle position greater than 90°, then the ankle’s desire (totally anthropomorphizing here) to be at a Barbie-like resting position will knock you back toward your butt during a squat.

It means that, while walking or running, you are using your muscles, tendon, and fascia like springs, instead of like muscles.

B.F.D., you say? You say you like springs? So much that you want to add springs to your shoes?

Well, for those of you who didn’t take Physics 101: After stretching a spring out (read: once you load your foot during a walk or fun cycle by planting it on the ground), it shortens back up because of the properties of the spring (read: not requiring any energy) to launch you forward.

For those of you who didn’t take Physiology 101: Using your muscles like springs (because they’re too short to use as muscles) means you’re expending very little energy (read: calories) during your exercise session. No matter what the machine-thing tells you.

How did your calves get so short?

1. A lifetime of footwear with elevated heels.

2. Practicing “on the toes/ball of the foot” type activities, i.e. dancing, cheerleading, sports, running.

3. Muscle tone due to birthing process (i.e. CP)

How can I restore my lower leg?

1. Gently stretch your gastrocnemius (no bent knee).

2. Gently stretch your soleus and Achille’s tendon (keep your heel down as you slightly bend your knee).

3. Stop wearing shoes with heels.

4. Do all of these things when you’re done with your “on your toes” activities.

5. Read this book.

6. Or, don’t do any of these things and have a surgery to lengthen your Achille’s Tendon. Nice because you don’t have to change any of your habits. Except for the bed rest. And the year recovery time. And physiotherapy. And learning how to walk in a mobilization boot. And the likelihood of knee, hip, and back pain from the bed, the crutches and the boot. But, you know. Whatever.

Got tight calves? Work on them until your foot looks less like Barbie’s

and more like Ken’s. Minus the dog bites.

No Barbies were actually harmed for this blog post. Although one may not be able to say the same about those who played with them.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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37 thoughts on “Raise your…foot

  1. Wow! a real knock out post, Katy!! Me and my three year old already snapped shots of our feet, she thought it was hilarious. Great motivation to keep on keepin’ on the calf stretch!

  2. I just did the test, on myself and my three children. I don’t have a Barbie foot, but there is lots of room for improvement. My youngest ( 1year old) had the ideal 90 degree ankle angle. What surprised me most was that both of my older children (2.5 and 4.5 yrs) had a lot of angle. I was expecting them to both be close to 90 degress, maybe the younger one a little better than the older one. Obviously they would benefit from calf stretches. I’m just so stunned because they go barefoot at home, and we have switched to water shoes/vibrams for them to wear outside. So,do you suggest we start doing calf stretches on rolled up towels (and get a half dome for myself)? Why is the runner’s stretch (one leg lunging forward, other leg pressing heel down) not good?

    1. Yah, it’s a gait pattern and sitting time (and on furniture) issue too. It’s best to compare each to themselves for progress — maybe catch a photo on your cell phone of each! Everyone can use the a little calf stretching (and foot massage is nice too…). Towels are great for tiny feet. Maybe even a folded, rolled hand towel? The typical calf stretch isn’t really functional and you want to keep the stretching leg weight bearing, if that makes sense! Fun family project!

      1. I will take photos of all three of us so we can see the progess. I took a photo of my foot, and it’s worse than I thought compared to when I just looked in the mirror 🙁 But, like you said, it’ll be a fun family project. Thanks for the suggestions and answer to my question.

  3. Better than they used to be but still have a way to go. One foot is kind of twist toward eversion too. But, I’m working on it! Gotta go stretch my calves. Over and out!

  4. Great Post!!! I’m between you and MC. Feel the “sensation” right at the attachment of hamstring at ischial tuber, in that position. At least I know where the tension is and where to keep working 🙂

  5. Your photoshop skills are awesome. Of course, that’s the only time to find a relaxed foot. His squat is divine, too. I’m off to get my own photos, just as soon as I can pry my own toddler off my own breast. (She told me she was done sleeping. She lied.)

  6. Thanks Katy: even though I can see the resemblance between my foot and Barbie’s, you’ve succeeded in making me laugh out loud about it. Great post. Calf-stretching now…..

  7. awsome the feet were exercised pounding around early wine park in okc last century ,love you too , OM

  8. My right foot was 90 degrees but my left foot is different . Do I stretch my left more?

    1. You can stretch it more, yes, but also pay attention to what you’re doing to the foot throughout the day, i.e. how you stand relative to your feet, how you use the toes and that foot while walking, etc. Something will be revealed…

  9. OMG! katy!! i saw these ladies out jogging with those spring-shoes, i couldn’t believe it!

    wouldn’t that reduce your calorie burning whatever rate to like, nothing at all?

    i seriously just walked around gaping for the whole rest of the day (prolly, i looked like an idiot, but i did it in my vibrams with a good pelvic list!)

    1. oh and also: i’m SO including this little test in tonight’s class.

      followed up by “ok, so as soon as you all get home, you will order this book!”


  10. What does it mean for me if the calf stretches you prescribe are very painful for my ankle? The front of my ankle feels intense pressure when I do them, like there’s not enough room for all the bones (worse with the bent leg stretch), and the area below what I *think* is the medial malleolus (an area that is ALWAYS swollen) feels a tight, painful pulling sensation (worse with the straight leg stretch, but there for both. I also feel this pain when walking in my Earth shoes…). (I use a rolled yoga mat, and sometimes a half dome to strech on.)

    I’ve pretty much mastered foot alignment, and I’m working on my internally rotated knees and tight hamstrings, but these calf stretches are PAINFUL! I know I need them, though. Years of achilles tendonitis have left me with feet much worse than Barbie’s…

    1. If you’re calves have been very tight for a very long time, that puffiness can be some swelling. When you go to stretch, you basically squish the area more because the fluid there reduces space. Try a stretch that uses something like a mat instead of a dome, or use a strap while lying on your back to pull your foot towards you — the change in the direction might temporarily move the fluid out so you can be a bit more comfortable during the stretch!

  11. Thanks for this post Katy… I’m unfortunately a Barbie foot gal {my daughter has made fun of me for this for YEARS}; but I’m working on it with lots of stretching, reading your book constantly, and then stretching some more.

    What do you suggest for plantar fibroma. This lump in my foot REALLY hurts – but surgery doesn’t sound all that grand.

    1. In addition to the muscle and alignment work, I think there are herbs you can take — maybe other modalities like acupuncture to help you along? Also, look for connections between the legs, pelvis and foot. Tight spots in other areas can really pull on fascia — the problem isn’t always within the lower leg, even if the symptom is! Good luck!

  12. Yikes! My foot looks WORSE than the barbie foot – not good! I used to be very flexible, and I know my foot used to be a lot flatter (though not as good as it should have been) due to the synchronized swimming I used to do – I remember doing certain stretches and my foot naturally being flatter while upside down.

    Got to start on these exercises. Is there a way to fit them into a bigger fitness program? How would one go about doing that?

    1. Sure, they need to be done once a day and are a great exercise/stretch session after your regular programming. Check out the full book that explains the entire program, how to adjust your body alignment to reduce calf tension too! Thanks for reading…Barbie foot…

  13. Did you know that Gary’s nickname many years ago was Barbie-feet? And he has never worn high heels; well actually he used to wear cowboy boots.

    So he is wondering if you stole the name from him?

    Just kidding. Good reminder about the feet.

    1. HAHAHA! I totally forgot about Gary’s feet. And I’d never call him that. To his face. Maybe Barbie-Feet in Hiking Boots… xxoo

  14. One thing I love (?) about your blog is that you give really great visuals for me to see how off my body is. So, yay?!

    Case in point: I can’t even really put my shins vertical. And Barbie feet are definitely there. This was timely too, because I was just about to ask you if it was bad that I often sleep on my back (that part is good), with my feet flat, toes pointed to the wall. I hate propping up the blanket with my feet, so I just did that to keep everything flat. I’m guess that is pretty bad for my feet–super Barbie-fying! I’ll be working on keep my toes up the ceiling instead!

    1. Hubs can’t get the shins vert either. At that point, you’re looking at limited hip motion. Evaluate and work on psoas release. Add that to the to-do list 🙂

  15. katy, how long do you recommend holding a stretch? my doctor told me that holding a stretch for more than a few seconds is counterproductive due to a tendon reflex that causes shortening of the muscle? is he just a crazy ND or is there truth in that? -emily

    1. I would hold a minimum of 30, working up to 60. Confused because a lot of the tendon reflex is caused by ballistic (fast and abrupt in directional change) to protect the joints. The purpose of stretching is not actually to make the muscle longer in the moment, but to realize that it’s tight and relax it. You can’t force it to lengthen — it’s tight because your brain is putting it there. You can do shorter holds, but it’s more a mindful exercise — which I think you’d lose in a 3-5 second burst.

  16. I laughed and laughed at this post. Your comments about the floors, breast, and dog bites were unbeatable!! On a serious note, this post and the shin splint posts are a WEALTH of knowledge. I have had shin pain for over 6 months due to sprinting – seen specialists and pretty much got dropped from PT becasue they had nothing left for me but “wait it out” as advice after 3 months of attending sessions. Never did ANY doctor or therapist explain the lower leg to me like you have. I now have hope! Thank you Katy, I am such a fan!

  17. Ha, ha! Great post!!! You’re preachin’ to the choir here, but I love the clarity and the humor. Do I detect a tad of cynicism? (Or… have a surgery to lengthen your Achille’s Tendon. Nice because you don’t have to change any of your habits.) Go girl!

  18. Hi Katy, thanks for taking the time to share this information with people. I have a question: if someone has over-pronated feet, is it safe to do the stretches that you show on this page?

    I recently heard that if the foot is over-pronated, these stretches could be risky. What I heard is that it could possibly hurt and stretch a tendon instead of targeting the correct muscles. One would have to put their foot in a neutral position before doing any stretching, and possibly stretch with orthotics on.
    I’m wondering if this is something to be worried about. I hope that you can reply. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge on this blog, there is a lot of interesting information :).

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