Home exercises and pronated foot exercises can help promote optimal foot and ankle strength and flexibility can help prevent or manage symptoms that crop up from abnormal foot pronation. Pronation is a normal and necessary function of the foot that helps with proper weight acceptance and forward propulsion with activities like walking and running. Since the feet are a vital foundation for all weight-bearing moves, too much or too little pronation can lead to imbalances throughout the body. Keep reading to learn more about exercises for pronation.
Exercises for Underpronation
Underpronation, meaning the foot doesn’t pronate enough during the landing phase of walking, typically causes inflexibility and high stiff arches. With these exercises, focus on improving foot and ankle mobility.
Dorsiflexion (bending) of the ankle is often minimal in a stiff ankle and can influence the foot’s ability to adequately pronate. Focus on stretching the joint tissues directly rather than the surrounding muscles that influence that area.
Start by half kneeling in front of a chair for support
Bring one knee and foot up in front of you- this will be the the ankle you are stretching
Place your foot flat on the ground with your hip and knee at an approximate 90 degree angle and toes pointing straight forward
Staying relaxed and keeping the entire bottom of the foot grounded in place, gently shift your weight forward over your foot to bend the ankle
Continue shifting until you feel a stretch deep in the ankle joint- if you’re calves are really tight too you may feel this stretch there as well
Hold for 5-10 seconds at a time
Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total
Complete on both ankles as needed
You should notice a slight increase in dorsiflexion range of motion and less ankle stiffness after each bout of this exercise
Standing Calf Stretch
Stiffness of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon are also very common with ankle/foot inflexibility issues. This stiffness strains the foot and affects its normal mechanics. Choosing one or two effective calf stretches can help your foot and ankle feel less stiff and better able to effectively accept weight.
Stand near a chair or wall to get started
Get in a lunge position (front knee bent, back knee straight) with the ankle you want to stretch in the back
Make sure both feet are flat on the floor and facing forward
Shift your weight forward (bend your knee) as you bend the back ankle- make sure to keep the heel firmly on the floor
Continue until a deep stretch is felt and hold for 30+ seconds
Repeat for 2-3 sets on each leg
To get a stretch in the deeper calf muscles, you can also repeat this entire exercise with the back knee slightly bent- this will focus on stretching the soleus muscle over the gastrocnemius
If you’d prefer to stretch your calves in a different position, there are other great options for stretching the calf muscles too. These include using a standing calf stretcher (single or dual), standing with your toes on the edge of a step, or sitting with a stretch strap.
Plantar Fascia Stretch
The thick band of tissue along the bottom of the foot (including local ligaments and muscles) is known as the plantar fascia. This area requires the right balance of stiffness and flexibility for optimal efficiency and arch support with weight bearing activities. Otherwise, pain and inflammation (otherwise known as plantar fasciitis) is more likely to occur. Keeping the local tissues mobile with appropriate stretching can reduce the risk of stiffness or onset of pain.
Sit in a comfortable chair to get started
Grab a stretch strap and wrap the loop around the big toe of the foot you want to stretch
With your heel resting on the ground and leg relaxed, gently pull your toe up toward your shin
Continue pulling back the big toe and ankle joint until you feel a deep stretch in the arch of the foot
Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each foot
You can straighten your knee to add a gentle calf stretch simultaneously if tolerated
Other great moves for the plantar fascia to promote tissue health include ankle pumps (simply bending and straightening the ankles repetitively) or a gentle rhythmic motion between toe curls and extension.
Exercises for Overpronation
Common factors associated with overpronation include hypermobility, too much general flexibility, and flat feet. However, some stiffness may still be evident due to onset of pain or overcorrection from surrounding muscles. Focus on building adequate strength and coordination within the foot and ankle complex. From there, you should move to more global foot and ankle strengthening exercises listed in the next section below.
If you have flat feet, the connective tissues in the foot that usually support the arch are too flexible and have a tendency to overpronate. Thus, it’s important to build strength and stability in the muscles that help control the arch and hold good foot posture.
Start by sitting in a comfortable chair with the foot you want to work flat on the floor
Focus on keeping your heel and the base of the big toe touching the ground as you attempt to lift the middle of your foot up toward the ceiling to make an arch shape
Typically, this motion requires you to shift more weight to the outer edge of your foot as your ankle gently changes its position- however you shouldn’t notice any movement in the knee or hip
Once you have lifted the arch, practice holding for 5-10 seconds
Repeat for 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets total on each side
Once you have mastered this exercise in sitting, it's imperative to progress to completing it in standing to gain better control with weight bearing tasks too
Being able to lift the heels and push off properly from the ball of the foot is a very functional move when it comes to walking and running. Be sure to start within a range of motion that you can tolerate without pain or ankle instability and then build from there.
Stand near a chair, counter, or wall for balance as needed with the feet approximately hip width apart
Shift your weight into the balls of your feet as you start to lift both your heels off the ground and straight up toward the ceiling
Keep your body neutral (no leaning forward) as you lift as high as you can, while keeping good form of the lower back and legs- this means no excessive wobbling at the ankle
Move up and down with slow control for 10 repetitions
Repeat for 2-3 sets
To progress, you can stand with your toes on a step to increase the required range of motion or try single leg calf raises
This is a great arch and toe strengthening exercise as well that can help build foot stability for functional activities. If you don’t have a towel, you can also try picking up items like marbles or rocks with your feet.
Sit comfortably in a chair with both feet flat on the floor
Place a hand sized towel (any towel will do if this isn’t available) flat on the floor under your feet- with the majority of the towel in front of your toes
Keep your heels on the ground as you lift your toes up and stretch them forward
Place your toes back down on the towel and curl them under as you bring the end of the towel closer to you and bunch it up
Repeat this move 10-15 times with the goal of bringing the front edge of the towel closer to you
Continue for 2-3 sets, readjusting the towel as needed to complete your repetitions
Exercises for Coordinating Pronation
This exercise works for both overpronation and underpronation.
4-way band ankle exercises
The ankle moves in four primary directions: inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion, and plantarflexion. Multidirectional strength and stability of the ankle is key for good walking and running mechanics. The video referenced below doesn’t show dorsiflexion.
Long sit on the floor and grab a resistance band (start low and progress from there)
First, wrap the band around the ball of your foot while securing each end with your hands
Simply point the toes as you push the foot against the band
Go as far as you can comfortably before returning to the starting position and repeating
Second, keep the band where it is around the forefoot and wrap both ends under the opposite foot- secure both band ends in the opposite hand as well
Then, push the foot outward and away from the body against the resistance while keeping the kneecap pointing straight up toward the ceiling
Again, move as far as possible while keeping good form before returning to the starting position and repeating
Third, unwrap the band from the opposite foot
Cross the legs so that the banded foot is on top
Hold both straps in the same hand as your foot- while holding the band as far away from the body as possible
Then, push the foot inward against resistance while keeping the upper leg still
Fourth and finally, turn the band so that it wraps across the top of your foot instead of the bottom
Have someone hold the band ends below your foot for you or you secure it to a sturdy surface
Pull the toes up against the resistance of the band as you bring them closer to your shins
Repeat each movement 10-15 times for 2-3 sets each- you can choose to do all three sets at once of each exercise or alternate between the movements
Single Leg Balance
You can practice optimal coordination for weight-bearing activities with single-leg balance exercises. Depending on the strength and pain in your foot, you can choose an appropriate level of difficulty to get started.
Stand near a chair, counter, or wall for balance and safety as needed
Shift your weight into the foot you want to balance on while lifting the opposite foot
Focus on keeping the foot and ankle in optimal alignment (refer to the arch lift exercise if needed!)
When you’re ready, you can also add dynamic movements like head turns, arms movements, and more to further challenge your balance
Once you have improved your foot and ankle flexibility and strength, it’s time to make sure it is carrying over to the actual movements you are doing throughout your day. If you can’t make functional improvements with your exercises, you will most likely continue to suffer from symptoms of pain in the foot. Thus, this is a very crucial last step in your recovery process.
Practice walking with optimal mechanics both barefoot and in properly fitting shoes
You can use a mirror or record yourself on video to assess how you’re moving and what your feet look like with each step (if you have no idea what you’re looking for- talk to your physical therapist for professional feedback!)
With each step, you take, focus on preventing abnormal pronation (this will depend on your specific deficits)
Over time and with practice, you should be able to walk while keeping good form without having to think about it- the ultimate goal!
The Goal with Foot Exercises
After reviewing the exercises above, it should be relatively clear what the goal and benefits are of stretching and strengthening. Let’s quickly review what you can gain from consistent foot exercises:
Improve lower body muscle balance
Ankle stability for daily activities
Optimal joint mobility and flexibility for any stiff joints or other connective tissues
Promote blood circulation for better healing of any injured tissues and any necessary swelling management
Pain relief via blood flow and the release of the body’s natural endorphins
Reduced risk of the onset of pain; such as back pain, ankle or foot pain, and beyond
Better mechanics with walking and running to reduce lower body strain and prevent unnecessary injury
Are There Movements to Avoid?
Prescribed movement is ultimately dependent on your unique deficits. Overall, it’s best to avoid any movement that aggravates your symptoms. From there, you can make your best judgement or talk to your doctor about which exercises to do and avoid for your feet and ankles. No matter what you choose, always ensure:
You are keeping your foot in good alignment.
Wear well-fitting footwear with good orthotics.
Tips for More Effective Exercises
Want to get the bang for your buck with your exercise program? Follow these tips:
Start at a level of exercise that you can control; find a balance between good form and challenging the foot and ankle
Use your symptoms to gauge the effectiveness of your exercises; modify or progress when you’re ready
Make sure that you are practicing good mechanics with walking and running after completing your program to ensure proper carryover and get the most out of your exercises
It’s important to note that any of the exercises listed (in any category) above can be beneficial for any type of ankle or foot dysfunction- the key is finding the right balance of exercise that fits your unique dysfunctions
Improving Your Pronation
Ankle pronation is an essential part of your body’s biomechanics with weight-bearing activity. Dealing with underpronation or overpronation can be frustrating when it affects your ability to walk or run and leads to pain. Staying on top of your foot and ankle health with a good exercise program and other treatment modalities can help you put your best foot forward, literally. If abnormal pronation is affecting your quality of life or your symptoms are getting worse, it’s time to get medical advice from your doctor or physical therapist.
JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.
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