At Threshold Fitness Beyond the Physical we do our exercise without shoes or sneakers because the feet need to be engaged like every muscle in the body. Feeling the floor under your feet, engaging our awareness of how the whole foot works as we press to do a leg press or a squat, it changes the way we understand our balance, our orientations of left and right, favoring the outside of the foot or inside, using the toes and the heels...
Our feet and our calves are like the donkeys of our bodies. We make them work all day long, and they carry us and our baggage without giving a second thought. They're strong and pretty resilient, but if they're not addressed through exercise, stretching and, yes, massaged, all kinds of trouble can happen( plantar fasciitis, metatarsalgia, neuroma, fallen arches, etc). Most of this can be prevented with regular attention to the feet.
Happy Feet Exercises
Calf Raises are among the easiest exercises to do. Simply stand on the balls of your feet on the edge of step, a curb, a block. Slightly turn your feet to be pigeon toed. Gently rise up to stand on the tips of your toes,, really trying to dig into the step with the toes, pushing hard with the big toes. Then, when you're as high as you can go, slowly lower the heels, dropping below the toes so the achilles can really stretch, gripping the edge of the stair or block keenly with your toes. Don't linger in the stretch, but, instead, rise up again to your tippy toes. Repeat this 8-10 times. If it's easy with both feet, do one foot at a time.
Pick Up a sock or light cloth off the floor using your toes to grip and lift it off the floor. Hold for a few seconds seconds, then release. Repeat five to eight times with each foot. If the cloth is easy, try a pencil.
Practice spreading all your toes and hold for five seconds; release, repeating this 5-8 times, if you can. Don't be discouraged if initially you can't part the toes entirely. The practice will create greater dexterity and ability. Also practice lifting each toe off the floor individually while the rest of the foot sits firmly against the floor.
A Balance board is a great vehicle to improve our Proprioception. Intitially, simply resting in a still steady position on the balance board is enough. As you gain ability you can practice moving the board left and right, tilting clockwise and counter clockwise, using your balance and muscles in the feet to control the board and keep balance.
All these exercises strengthen the muscles of the feet and calves and, as a result, protects the bones of the feet. It will improve balance, flexibility, give more bounce in the step, and keep the Achilles tendons and plantar fasciae from getting tight.