Your foot consists of 20 muscles, 26 bones and 31 joints, according to Colleen Craig’s book "Pilates on the Ball: The World's Most Popular Workout Using the Exercise Ball." If you want to build up the balls of your feet, take lessons from athletes who rely on their feet for performance. For example, martial artists use their feet as weapons. Dancers spend most of their working lives on the balls of their feet or the tops of their toes.
Do Balletic Drills
Ballet dancers need strong enough feet to lift their body weight to their tiptoes. They prepare for pointe work by doing relevés, or lifting their bodies onto the balls of their feet. By performing relevés, you’ll strengthen not only the balls and arches of your feet but also the calves and glutes. Hold on to door jamb for support. Stand next to the wall with your legs together, feet turned out and back straight. Bend your knees and then straighten your legs. Rise to the balls of your feet, hold for a breath and then lower yourself back to starting position. Perform four sets of eight reps each. To increase the intensity of the exercise, hold the peak position on the eighth rep for a count of eight before lowering your heels to the ground.
Jump Like a Dancer
When dancers jump, they land on the balls of their feet first and avoid plunking down with a thud. Instructors admonish ballet students about sounding like a pack of elephants after a jump combination. When your feet are weak on a jump, you tend to land on your heels. Perform an exercise that begins with the same movements as a relevé but lift yourself off the ground in a small jump. Dancers call this type of jump a “changement,” because they use this movement to switch legs. As a foot exercise, you don’t need to switch legs; simply jump into the air. Avoid focusing on the height of your jump. Focus instead on landing gently on the balls of the feet first before shifting your weight to the heels. Perform four sets of eight reps.
Roll a Tennis Ball
Use tennis or lacrosse balls as strengthening aids for the balls of your feet. For example, place a tennis ball under the arch of one foot. Stand up straight and shift your weight onto your working foot. Hold the position for a few seconds before relieving the pressure on the ball. Perform four reps. Place both feet on the floor to feel the impact of the exercise. Switch sides and repeat the exercise with the other foot. Next, place the tennis ball under the ball of your foot. Use your body weight to press down on the ball. Hold the position to activate the muscles and tissue in the ball of your foot. Perform four reps for each foot.
Use a Stability Ball
To boost the intensity of an exercise in which you raise your body to the balls of your feet, use a stability ball. Place the ball against a wall. Next, position the small curve of your back against the ball and face away from the wall. Stand with your heels about 20 to 28 inches from the wall. Sink your body back into the ball, allowing your hands to hang by your sides. Feet should be hip-width distance apart. Lift and suspend your heels so you're balancing on the balls of your feet. Inhale, bend your knees and lower into a squat. Exhale and straighten your knees. Perform six to eight reps, staying on the balls of your feet. Avoid wrapping your tail bone around the ball. Limit the depth of your squat to the point where you can maintain a neutral pelvis and feel a comfortable tension.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.