Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Every dancers strives to improve their arches. Whether it is pointing your toe during a develope or going en pointe, there are a few key things you need to consider. Overall, the most important thing to do first is determine where your limitations lie so that you can focus on the area that needs the most work.
So let's look at the 3 main components to improving your arch height:
Ankle Plantar Flexion
Lacking full foot and ankle mobility can result in compensations, which can lead to all sorts of potential problems. Dancer's need approximately 90 degrees of plantar flexion (pointing the foot) to safely go on pointe and give you those pretty long lines.
Here's an easy way you can check to see if you have 90 degrees of plantar flexion:
Did you pass? Congrats- now I want you to stop stretching and move on to strengthening! A huge mistake many dancers make is focusing too much on stretching the feet, when in reality you may already have more than enough flexibility.
If you failed the test, try this exercise:
Plantar Flexion Stretch:
Sit with one leg crossed over and point your foot. Use your hand to gently press down on the top off the foot until you feel a stretch across the front of the ankle.
To increase the stretch, also gently press down on your toes so they curl.
Hold 30 seconds, 3-5x
1st Toe Extension
One other area of mobility to be mindful of is 1st toe extension. In order to get fully into releve, dancers require roughly 90 degrees of 1st toe extension.
To assess this: pull back your 1st toe as far as you can. Can you make it to a 90 degree angle? If not, Try this stretch:
1st Toe Extension Stretch:
Stand with one foot slightly behind you and prop up onto your toes. Gently lean your weight back and try to push the front of the ankle forward, allowing your 1st toe to stretch into extension.
Sets/Reps: Hold 3 x 30 seconds.
Having the mobility to go en pointe is one thing, but being strong enough is another. You cannot rely on your shoe to hold you up en pointe, you MUST have adequate strength in the foot and ankle as well.
Test out your strength:
Stand on one leg and try to perform as many calf raises as you can. Be mindful to keep proper form, so you may want a friend to watch/count for you. Proper form means: no trunk lean forward or back, maintaining a stable knee position and achieving full height of the calf raise.
If you can make it to 25, you pass the test. If not, Here's a few exercises to work on:
Eccentric Calf Raises:
Releve on 2 feet, then lift up the right foot and slowly lower (3 count) on only the left leg. Repeat 30x on each side.
Releve Holding Theraband:
Stand on 1 foot and anchor band in door. Hold band at your stomach and take a step away from door so there is a little tension on it. Now, perform your heel raise on 1 foot while maintaining your balance.
Repeat 10x each foot, facing each direction.
3. MOTOR CONTROL
This might just be the most important piece of it all. You have the mobility, you have the strength, but if you can't control it you've got nothing! Being able to coordinate all the muscles moving together is what creates beautiful lines and flawless technique.
Here's a quick video comparing good versus poor motor control:
So how do you increase motor control? Practice, practice, practice. Doing your regular strength exercises while focusing on control and alignment will help to build that muscle control gradually over time.
Here's a few good exercises to try:
Segmented Foot Pointing:
Place a band around your foot. Point the ankle but keep toes flexed, then point toes into band. Slowly bring toes back, then ankle. Repeat 30x.
Begin standing in 1st position with a theraband tied around the ankles. Perform doming first (if you don't know what that means, watch this video) then raise into your releve. Press your ankles into the band to elongate through the front your ankle, being mindful to keep the weight centered between the 2nd and 3rd toe.
*Try this en pointe for an added challenge
Once last thing to mention:
It's important to keep in mind that arch height is a combination of many factors. You must look at all 3 elements to truly determine where the problem is coming from. This article also only looked at the ankle and foot, but it's important to remember that other body areas, like the hip and core, can have an impact on your arch height. Remember- you are only as strong as your weakest link!!
Want to learn more about how to improve your feet!?
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This 2 part exercise program gives you a total of 8 weeks of strengthening exercises focused on improving your feet and ankles. It will help you build strength, mobility, balance and control.
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A always, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not replace the need for medical advice. If you have tried these exercises and still aren't seeing improvement with these exercises, it would be well worth your time to get evaluated by a dance medicine specialist in your area!
Kadel NJ. Foot and ankle injuries in dance. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics. 2006 Nov 1;17(4):813-26.
Hebert-Loiser, K, et al. Raising the standards of the calf-raise test: A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2009; 12: 594-602.