For a group of muscles that are so crucial—and which work hard all day to help us walk, stand, jump, run, and do so much more—it’s remarkable how often we neglect our feet. Not only do we pay them little attention until they start hurting, but we abuse them by wearing unsupportive (and oftentimes downright uncomfortable) shoes. If you rarely wear sneakers and favor flats, sandals, and heels instead, try these 5 moves from Mike Deibler, MS, a personal trainer in San Diego. These exercises help counter the foot pain and muscle strain those unsupportive shoes may be causing. (Burn calories and build muscle—all while boosting your mood—with our 21-Day Walk a Little, Lose a Lot Challenge!)

5 Foot Exercises You Need To Do If You Never Wear Sneakers

Tennis Ball Foot Massage

“When you wear non-supportive footwear, you often end up clenching your toes and the bottom of your feet in an attempt to create more support or stability,” says Deibler. “When you do this for prolonged periods of time, your feet get stiff, which can affect your gait and even lead to injuries.” This tennis ball massage helps to restore proper movement of the joints in your feet. Use a baseball or lacrosse ball for a deeper massage.

Photograph by Mike Deibler
Photograph by Mike Deibler

Stand with a tennis ball under one foot. Gently put some of your body weight onto the ball and roll it around, looking for any tender spots. Continue to roll the ball around the bottom of your foot, focusing attention on the most tender areas. Do this for 1 to 2 minutes, then repeat on the other side. (Check out more pain-fighting moves you can do with a tennis ball.)

Toe Extensions

With your shoes off, try to lift only your big toe off the ground, while leaving all the others on the ground. Then, try to keep your big toe down and lift all of your other toes. Repeat on the other foot. “If your feet are stiff, this will likely be an incredibly challenging exercise,” says Deibler. “Not only will it help to release some of that foot muscle stiffness, but it is also a test: The harder it is to do, the more you need to exercise your feet,” he says.

Photograph by Mike Deibler
Photograph by Mike Deibler

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Resisted Toe Extension

If you wear sandals and other open-toed shoes often, there’s a good chance you tend to clench your toes and flex them down to keep the sandals from falling off your feet,” says Deibler. “This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that do the opposite and lift the toes up.”

Photograph by Mike Deibler
Photograph by Mike Deibler

With your shoes off, place your index finger on your big toe. Create some resistance with your hand, then try to lift your big toe off the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat on all of your other toes on this foot and then the other.

Band Resisted Ankle Dorsiflexion

If you often wear heels, you are forced into ankle plantar flexion where your toes are pointing down most of the time,” says Deibler. “This can weaken the muscles of the front of your lower leg, preventing dorsiflexion (backward flexing of the foot).” The result? Potentially, an altered gait or increased risk of falling. “This drill will strengthen your dorsiflexors and stretch to your plantarflexors,” says Deibler—the perfect antidote to wearing high heels.

Photograph by Mike Deibler
Photograph by Mike Deibler

Tie a resistance band to an anchor point, such as the leg of a heavy desk or table. Sit on the floor with your legs straight and tie the other end of the band around your foot so you are facing the anchor point. Let the band pull your foot and toes down (into plantar flexion), then pull your toes and foot toward you (dorsiflexion), trying to stretch the band as far as you can. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps, then switch to your other foot.

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Stand On A Cobblestone Mat

Photograph by Mike Deibler
Photograph by Mike Deibler

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