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The mercury has risen and here’s a hot truth: Summer can be fantastic for the soul, but hard on the feet. We’re talking flip flops and running in the sand—both of which can cause soreness and injuries due to weak feet. Swapping laced-up shoes for sandals is often the culprit, and most problems stem from doing too much, too soon. Fortunately there are ways to strengthen, stretch and prep your (or your young athlete’s) feet for barefoot steps in the sand.
1. Scrunch a Towel
You can do this while catching up on emails or your latest show, and you’ll strengthen the tiny muscles between your toes, which can help protect them from sprains. Grab a small towel (dish towels work great), and place it on the floor beneath your foot. (Note: Tile or wood floors work best.) Scrunch the towel beneath your toes, pulling it toward you before switching feet and repeating on the other side.
2. Do Your ABCs
Grab a seat and draw the alphabet with each foot, using your big toe as a ‘pen.’ Perform the entire alphabet once or twice with each foot. It might seem extremely rudimentary, but you’ll work nearly every muscle in your foot. Bonus: This move can be fun for kids.
3. Walk On Your Heels
Flex your feet and walk around your home on your heels for 30 seconds. (You may want carpet for this one, though any type of flooring works well.) Rest for 10 seconds and repeat two to three times. You’ll strengthen your tibialis anterior: the muscle along the front of your shins, which helps stabilize your foot.
4. Balance on Your Toes
It’s as simple as it sounds. Try standing on your toes and holding for 30 to 60 seconds. Next, try balancing on one foot, and then the other. Finally, take a 30-second walk on your toes around your home. This move trains your balance and can strengthen all the small stabilizing muscles in your feet.
5. Take a Stroll Sans Shoes
Step around your house barefoot for five minutes, to bring circulation into your feet. You’ll also help prep your soles for the sand.
Lara Rosenbaum is an award-winning journalist and wellness expert whose work has appeared in Shape, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention, Yoga Journal and many other publications. She has held positions at several magazines and brands, including Women’s Health, where she was the founding fitness editor, and at Fitbit. Lara is also a former elite athlete, having traveled the world as a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team.