A lot of running success can come from having good foot control and good foot control comes from strong and flexible feet. Wearing shoes and especially inflexible, highly cushioned and high-drop shoes (drop is defined as the difference between heel and forefoot stack height), can weaken our feet and render them more and more inflexible. I will save the discussion on barefoot and minimal style shoes for a later date. Here is a nice post on minimal running misconceptions. This post is just describing one of the ways I awaken my feet, on an almost daily basis.
To increase blood flow, release small adhesions and just get things moving again in my feet, I stand and roll my feet over small dense rubber balls. The ones pictured are some that I use. Because I have narrow feet, I prefer the smaller ones – 1.5 inches in diameter. I also use the small hi-bounce balls, like super balls, to get in between the bones and right behind my big toe mound and to dig deep. But I only use the small (.75 – 1 inch in diameter) balls AFTER I have loosened my feet with a larger ball. While tennis balls might work, I find them a bit large and providing too much give. Lacrosse balls I also find a bit large and too dense. Golf balls are good in size, but very hard and I prefer rubber balls as they aren’t as hard to control under my foot, as the rubber material provides some grip.
How I use them is be starting with the ball right under my heel bone and I direct all of my weight onto the ball. If this is painful or you have trouble balancing, stand by a wall or a piece of furniture to brace yourself. Once that feels released, I move the ball up my foot toward my toes, moving first up the center and then along the sides in a couple of passes. I also like to spend some time moving the ball across the ball of the foot from inside to outside to really help my toes get loose.
Most of the time when I do this, I get some cracking and popping in my foot bones. It is not painful, but the bones settling back into place as the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia release. Don’t worry if this happens. If it hurts at any time, you need to back off. Also, I do not recommend this if you have a broken or fractured bone in your foot. While improving circulation to that area is good, standing on a hard rubber ball on that area COULD induce more damage and further delay you healing.