Many runners experience tightness or soreness in their feet and hips at some point. Although self-care for runners can seem complicated, I want to give you a simple foot and hip mobility routine you can do at home – with minimal equipment – to help mobilize your feet and hips.
Restoring or creating appropriate mobility and strength in areas you use a lot contributes to stronger, healthier, and more durable running in the long run. Healthy feet, ankles, and hips also contribute to happier knees because of the knee’s position between the foot and hip. In addition, most of the work you can do to improve foot and hip mobility just feels good in the moment. So, even if everything feels fine, you may enjoy doing these as part of your post-run routine.
This foot and hip mobility sequence only requires about 5-7 minutes of time, a small ball (a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or similar), a yoga block, and a half cylinder or half dome. You can use a large, thick towel or blanket in place of the half cylinder. Preferably, complete these exercises bare footed, but wearing socks works, too. I recommend starting with one full cycle of this sequence, and then you can repeat or pick out the exercises you feel you need to focus on again and do those.
Note: All the foot and hip mobility exercises are described and demonstrated in the video below. For quick reference, text instructions for each exercise are included below the video.
Lifting/Lowering/Spreading the Toes
Start in the standing position with your feet about hip width apart and toes facing straight ahead. Working with one foot at a time to start, lift and lower your big toe, then your other toes. Spread your toes apart like you’d spread your fingers. Do you find doing the lifting/lowering or spreading tricky? That’s your cue to keep working on it! Sometimes after you complete the next movement, or at the very end of this sequence, try this one again. You may find it a bit easier. Your goal is 60 seconds per foot, and with practice you can do this with both feet simultaneously.
Rolling Your Foot on a Ball
While standing or seated, gently roll your foot along a tennis ball (a firm ball such as a lacrosse ball works great here, too). Hold in various positions along the foot, especially in the heel, under the big toe, and along the arch. Work your way from the back of the foot to the front. Think of this as a foam roller for your foot! Spend about 1-2 minutes rolling on each foot.
Standing Top of the Foot Stretch
Stand up and extend one leg behind you, tucking your toes under so the top of your toes/feet are in contact with the ground. Try to tuck all five toes. If you can’t right away, don’t worry, you can work up to it. Aim to keep the ankle straight (not rolling in or out). Doing this in front of a mirror to check can help. If the foot cramps, take a rest, then return to the stretch. Work up to a 60 second hold for each foot.
This movement helps strengthen the lateral hip muscles and improve gait mechanics. Step up on a yoga block so your heel is firmly planted on the block. Push down through the heel of the food on the block to elevate the floating leg. Focus on using muscles in the leg and hip on the block side to lift the floating leg, rather than using your back and torso to “lift” the floating leg. You should feel this in the lateral side of the grounded hip and glutes more so than in your back and torso on the floating side. Do either 10-12 reps or work up to a 60 second hold. Switch sides.
Strengthening the calf through loading is important, and completing this stretch after a run is like a cherry on top. To do this stretch, use a half-dome or thick rolled towel. Keeping the foot straight and aligned on the outside edge, place the ball of the foot on the top of the dome or towel. Step forward with the opposite foot as far as you can while keeping your body upright and balanced and without thrusting your ribs. If your calves are very tight, your upper body will start to lean forward. Fix that by moving the nonworking foot backward until your torso is upright. You can also do this with both feet on the half dome, as well. Work up to a 60 second hold per foot.
Kneeling Top of the Foot Stretch
This is similar to the standing top of the foot stretch, but down on the ground. Place the tops of the feet on the half dome or towel and sit back on your heels. Place a a small, rolled towel behind your knees if there is any tightness there. Sit back and hold. To deepen the stretch, slowly inch your knees forward. Hold for 60 seconds.
Supine Block Hold
This hip mobility exercise strengthens you adductors while stretching the internal hip rotators. Lie on your back and place a block or thick, rolled towel between your bent. Bring your knees up until your shins are parallel to the ceiling and your knee and hip joints are at nearly 90-degree angles. All the while, keep your pelvis neutral and your low back in contact with the ground. Maintain gentle tension on the block between the knees; you aren’t squeezing it here. SLOWLY pull your ankles apart as wide as possible while keeping your knees in contact with the block. Work up to a 60 second hold. Start SLOW and gentle with this one. Runners with tight hips sometimes experience cramps in their deep hip rotators with this one.
By Sarah Scozzaro,
CTS Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA, NSCA-PT, NASM-PES