Rethinking Warm-Up Exercises For The Lower Extremity For Patients With Active Lifestyles

Tracey Vlahovic DPM

Recently, I attended a seminar called “Feet: Our Dynamic Base” given by Eric Franklin, a dancer and movement educator. He elegantly described the biomechanics of the foot and ankle to an audience mostly consisting of Pilates instructors, dancers and laypeople.

Those who know me well are familiar with my background as a trained dancer who ultimately became a Latin ballroom dancer, which greatly fueled my interest in podiatric medicine. It was logical to me as a dancer to pursue a field of medicine that I could truly relate to.

One statement that Mr. Franklin made that knocked my socks off (pun intended) was dancers do not really warm up their feet. I can attest to that statement as my pre-dancing foot “warm-up” only consisted of pointing, flexing, rotating my ankles and prancing. After attending this seminar, I realized that my tried and true warm-up did very little for the overall well-being (strength and flexibility) of my lower extremity. The exercises (using visualization techniques to relax the body, Thera-Bands and small 10 cm diameter balls) that Mr. Franklin proceeded to describe over three hours made me feel taller, better aligned and more stable than I could have ever imagined. Certainly, these exercises do not simply apply to dancers. They can apply to anyone with an active lifestyle such as runners, tennis players, podiatric physicians, etc.

In his book Conditioning for Dance, Mr. Franklin states: “The foot does not have a life of its own. Rather, its movement is related to the movement of the hip, pelvis and spine.”1

As podiatric physicians, we certainly realize this. But how often do we consider doing exercises either ourselves or recommend those to patients that could create more flexibility, better alignment and ultimately more strength in the lower extremity (but do not involve grunting in the gym)? I am sure most of us show our patients how to stretch their Achilles and pick up a towel with the toes.

However, adding imagery while explaining the stretch and having the patient discover the physical sensations while doing the stretch with you will go a lot further to effect a positive change versus solely demonstrating the exercise. I encourage you to check out Franklin’s book Happy Feet: Dynamic Base, Effortless Posture to see the wide array of exercises I learned during that workshop.2

Some other methods of creating foot fitness from a holistic perspective include Yamuna® Foot Fitness and T-Tapp Foot Fitness.3,4 If you have a frozen shoulder, want a better golf game or have a bad back and are looking for an integrative way of managing it, you could also consider Gyrotonic®, which was developed by another former dancer, Juliu Horvath.5,6 It is designed to develop muscle strength and flexibility through spiraling movements and an elaborate pulley system, which works joints through their entire range of motion.

The aforementioned methods all look to affect a change not just in the part being exercised but in the overall well-being and conditioning of the person. These methods offer alternative ways of training for many, ranging from athletes who want conditioning outside of the gym to the average Joe or Jane who wants to cultivate more body awareness and freedom of physical movement.


1. Franklin E. Conditioning for dance. Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, Ill, 2004.
2. Franklin E. Happy feet: dynamic base, effortless posture. OPTP, Minneapolis, 2010.

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