If you like foot cramps, then this is the exercise for you! Seriously, if FootLove Yoga has inspired you to move your feet more and in a variety of new ways, you may have discovered that some exercises cause your feet and lower legs to cramp. This is not surprising as cramps can be the result of:
- muscle fatigue – the intrinsic muscles of your feet are weak
- limited range of motion – your muscles are not at their optimal lengths and your joints are not accustomed to exploring new ranges of motion
- poor circulation – muscles that don’t move don’t get much blood into the smallest blood vessels
- increase in activity – your muscles are not prepared for the loads you are now asking of them
Good news is that if you continue to exercise your feet, spend more time barefoot, and make better shoe choices (thin, flat flexible sole with a wide toe box) your feet will get stronger and more flexible and the cramping will diminish and disappear for good.
I first learned of an exercise I call Marble Bridge from an article by Robin Rothenberg in the trade magazine Yoga Therapy Today. Robin learned of it from her colleague John Childers. I lean on their language to describe how and why it works.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet standing on the floor, pelvic width apart
- Place a yoga block or stack of books under your sacrum (this is the lowest part of your spine. Make sure the block is not under your lumbar curve.)
- Hold a marble or large bead with the toes of your right foot, curling your toes around it as you would if you were making a fist with your hand. If you don’t have a marble, you can pretend to hold one, but it doesn’t work as well.
- Extend your right knee, keeping your knees even with each other. This is equivalent to eka pada salamba setu bandha sarvangasana or one legged supported bridge pose in yoga
CrampPoint your foot (plantar flex); hold for 5 seconds CrampFlex your foot (dorsiflex); hold for 5 seconds
crampingpointing and crampingflexing your foot for as long as you can stand it…
- If you cramp, release the marble, rest and begin again. You may need to lesson the amount of time in each foot position
- You can make this posture easier by removing the block
- You can make this exercise more challenging by doing a full, unsupported bridge
What is happening?
The action of grasping the marble strongly contracts the flexor muscles on the bottom of your foot; while the action of pointing your foot strongly causes a contraction through the Achilles tendon all the way up into your calf; at the same time you are deeply actively stretching the extensors on the top of your foot and front of your lower leg. This is a perfect storm of eccentric contraction that strengthens your muscles, increases the range of motion in your feet, and improves circulation and waste removal to your lower legs & feet, especially the heels that receive little blood flow and are ground zero for plantar fasciitis.
Both Rothenberg & Childers use this exercise to treat clients with plantar fasciitis. Rothenberg explains that the plantar fascia is often “locked long” or, put another way, chronically tensed in extension. The fix for tissues in this state is to strengthen them, since chronic tension makes them weak, and simultaneously use strong contractions to counter the state of chronic extension. She combines undulating stretching with strong contractions. She cured her life long plantar fasciitis this way.
You can watch a video of this exercise on FootLove Yoga Facebook page.