Restricted pointe range is one of the biggest problem areas for young dancers and something that I am often asked to talk about in my workshops. When most dancers think of pointe range, they will often think that they have insufficient ankle range when in fact its more an issue of strength. What I have found is that dancers will often have enough range to make a nice line with their foot but will lack the necessary strength to articulate the foot well. Most dancers when conditioning their feet will overlook the strengthening part of their routine and concentrate their focus on the stretching of their foot. While this may benefit some this may not be the ideal routine for all dancers, especially those that already have sufficient mobility.
It is therefore essential that dancers and teachers go back and determine what the limiting factor is to enable you to pick the exercises that are going to benefit the most. Doing seated rises and seeing whether one can achieve full pointe range will help to find the limiting factor. If a dancer is able to do it when she’s sitting but she can’t do it when she’s actually in her pointe shoes then more often it’s a strength issue. Strength needs to be taken into account as it is the biggest determinant for achieving nice range. In this case, stretching the foot and the ankle will not help the dancer achieve a better line as even more range will exacerbate the problem of instability and poor lines.
Strengthening the foot is absolutely essential when looking to improve pointe range. Learning how to activate the important muscles and decreasing the work from unnecessary muscles is imperative. In my program "How to Improve Pointe Range Safely Without a Foot Stretcher", I go through exercises to isolate, activate and integrate the critical muscles that help achieve beautiful lines. These involves the intrinsic muscles of the foot and the deep calf muscles that are often overlooked when conditioning dancers' feet.
Before starting any program a dancer should understand the exact areas that either need strengthening or mobilising. Looking at the way the foot responds to certain stretches will give a good insight into the areas that are causing restriction. One certain stretch is the big toe stretch that utilises the windlass mechanism of the foot, a natural mechanism that the body exhibits in response to stretch. This will often show if the restriction is in the midfoot or further back in the back of the ankle.