Foot and Ankle Stretches for Warm-Ups

Foot, calf, and ankle stretches can be used in warm-ups before exercise. They may also be recommended by physicians and physical therapists for treatment and recovery from plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and sprains.


Ankle and Calf Muscle Stretch

Stretching the foot with an exercise strap

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One way to stretch the ankle is in a seated position using a strap to pull the foot upward (ankle dorsiflexion).

This stretch targets the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia, which is within the sole of the foot. Not only is this an effective warm-up before exercise, but it also helps prevent and treat painful plantar fasciitis, also commonly referred to as heel spur syndrome.

Follow your provider's recommendation on how often to stretch and how long to hold each stretch. It's generally recommended that stretching exercises be done at least three times a day, holding each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds, repeating three to five times.

If you have or are prone to plantar fasciitis (a cause of heel pain), do this stretch before getting out of bed or after prolonged rest.



Woman doing lunge

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The lunge, or bent knee calf stretch, gives a deeper stretch to the calf muscles because it targets the soleus muscle of the calf better than a straight-knee ankle stretch. This stretch also targets the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia of the foot.

The stretch can be done on stairs or on flat ground while leaning against a wall or other object for stability. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds on each side and repeat three to five times.


Toe Stretch

Toe stretched on mat

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You may not think of toes as an important part of a stretching routine. The joints of the toes are subject to arthritis, soft tissue injury, and structural problems such as hammertoes and bunions, and can benefit from regular stretching.

Stretching the toes as pictured gives a good stretch to the plantar fascia: a ligament-like support structure that attaches to the heel bone and ball of the foot. The toes can be flexed while squatting down or in a seated position, or while standing in a runner's lunge.


Downward Ankle Stretch

Downward ankle stretch

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Pointing the foot downward is known as plantar flexion. This stretch targets the ankle joint ligaments and tendons of the top of the foot.

To increase the range of the stretch, rotate your foot clockwise and counter-clockwise, making an imaginary circle with your toes.

This is a good warm-up for the ankle joint, especially if you're prone to ankle sprains or tendonitis.

Rotate each foot for 30-60 seconds and repeat three to five times.


Butterfly Stretch

Butterfly stretch

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The butterfly stretch is great for stretching hip and inner thigh muscles, but it also stretches the lateral (little toe side) of the foot and ankle.

Holding the soles of the feet together while pulling the knees upward targets the lateral ankle and peroneal muscles of the lateral leg. This area of the ankle joint is prone to sprains and other types of injury, which can lead to chronic pain and joint stiffness. 

Follow-up with a stretch that pulls the foot in the opposite direction (everts the foot), which will target the medial (big toe side) of the foot and ankle. The medial side of the foot and ankle is prone to conditions such as posterior tibial tendonitis and nerve entrapment.

Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat three to five times.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo. Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sprained ankle.

  3. Davda K, Malhotra K, O'donnell P, Singh D, Cullen N. Peroneal tendon disordersEFORT Open Rev. 2(6):281-292. doi:10.1302/2058-5241.2.160047

  4. Bubra PS, Keighley G, Rateesh S, Carmody D. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction: an overlooked cause of foot deformityJ Family Med Prim Care. 4(1):26-9. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.152245

By Catherine Moyer, DPM
Catherine Moyer, DPM, is a podiatrist experienced in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders of the foot and ankle.