Foot & Ankle Strength Exercise Tips: Seated Heel Lifts

by | Sep 26, 2011 | Foot Care & Foot Fitness, Videos | 2 comments

Do you realize how important good foot, ankle, and leg alignment is when lifting and lowering your heels ?

Here is a very simple (but sometimes tricky) foot fitness exercise to improve foot and ankle alignment.  This seated heel lift foot-care exercise can increase ankle strength, and help you gain body awareness about what your feet, ankles, and legs are doing as you rise on your toes, and lower your heels.

Did You Know…?

  • What the foot and ankle are doing when you rise up and lower your heels plays an important part in how well you can maintain balance and body control.
  • Rolling your ankles in our out when rising up on your toes can affect your risk for spraining an ankle or torking a knee.
  • Keeping the leg from the hip to the knee, knee to the ankle, toes to the heel,  in optimal alignment will strengthen the whole leg from the hip to the sole of the foot.

Develop Stronger Legs, Improve Balance & Body Control,
and Improve your Arch Support!

This correct foot action to lift & lower your heels is practiced during Pilates on the Reformer during many different exercises: Footwork #4, Stomach Massage Round, Stomach Massage Hands Back, Running – just to name a few.  It’s much easier to pay attention to your feet when you’re not having to also think about your balance!  Pilates Reformer, Chair, and Cadillac exercises take balance out of the equation to help you work on this important foot and ankle strengthening skill.

The valuable aspects of good core support (abs, pelvic floor, inner thighs, outer thighs, high hamstrings & glutes) are all required to maintain good posture and safe leg alignment while you are training your feet and ankles to work appropriately as you lift & lower the heels.  You can’t just pay attention to your feet!  You have to pay attention to the WHOLE body, while you’re working your feet!

When Do We Use This Foot and Leg Action of Lifting & Lowering our Heels?

  • To rise on our tippy toes and get something off a high shelf.
  • Walking – with every step you take a step, there’s a moment when you roll through your foot.
  • When you run, to propel yourself forward you have to push through the foot.
  • To jump, hop, or skip you have to push off through the leg, ankle, and toes.
  • Climbing stairs….to lift up to the next step you should be rising on your toes.

…And I’m sure if you took a moment to think about other activities and exercises you do throughout the day, you’d begin to see how often you need this important this foot and ankle action for health, fitness, and daily life activities.

Why is standing up to work on lifting & lowering your heels more of a challenge?

A)     You’re full weight bearing.

B)      Balance becomes an issue

To make things easier, I like to start in a seated position to practice lifting & lowering the heels.  Sitting in a chair will be easier, seated on a lower box or on the floor can be a different type of challenge.  If you can sit in front of a mirror to watch your feet and ankles stay in good alignment throughout the exercise – that would be optimal.

Here’s a short video for you to watch the Seated Heel Lift Exercise, to see what to look for while you’re practicing this simple foot care exercise at home.

Foot Fitness Exercise:  Seated Heel Lifts

  • Sit with tall posture, back lifting abs in.
  • Feet parallel with the toes facing straight ahead.
  • Legs can either be hip width apart, or zipped together

Breathing :

  • Inhale to lift the heels – rising up on the toes
  • Exhale to pull the abs in, maintain tall posture, and with control lower the heels to the floor.

What to watch for:

  • Be sure the heels stay hidden behind the ball of the foot throughout the exercise.
  • Be sure the ankles do not wobble, or roll in or out.
  • If you tend to be hyper-mobile only rise up ¾ to your full lift, so the muscles of your feet will have to work to control the movement the entire time.
  • If you have stiff, tight ankles – work to lift the heels as high as possible, then lower.
  • For most people – the weight should be across your Big Toe, 2nd and 3rd  toes (there will be little if any weight on your 4th or 5th toe – if there is weight on your little toe – chances are your ankles are rolled outward.)
  • Inner thighs squeezing help to keep the weight over the Big Toe so the ankle can maintain good alignment while the heels lift & lower.

Can you do this Seated Heel Lift exercise easily?  If yes, than take it to a standing position.  Hang on to something for balance, and progress to standing on your own two legs without holding on to anything!  For even more of a challenge – Can you do your heel lifts & lowers standing on one leg?

Don’t worry if you’re not able to do this heel lift exercise standing yet!  It’s something to progress to over time…  Best to start seated and really get confident with what it feels like to maintain good support along with proper leg, ankle, and foot alignment!  If you’re ankles are really wobbly seated, or it’s a challenge to keep your heels hidden behind your feet…Stick with the seated version for awhile until it’s easy.  Or do 10-15 reps seated to be sure things are working right first, then try it standing and see how it goes.

Love to hear what you think about this exercise…

Happy Heel Lifts!

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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