The Toes!

The more I work with folks to teach proper foot function, the more I am drawn to the toes.  Arching, gripping, and pushing are toe driven movements.  The toes feel and sense the ground, giving it’s feedback to the feet for stability.

To assess functional capability, first check if your toes can extend 55 – 90 degrees, relative to the foot.                                  

                                          photo credit:


   adequate toe extension (~85d)                                      limited toe extension (~ 40d)

If extension is compromised, try passive mobilizations…

video credit: brian abelson

Or active stretches:

toes curled under (flexed)
toes extended

Dynamic stretches would include raising the knees off the floor, either together or one at a time.  The first minute or so of this squat video from Dewey Nielsen shows the nifty sequence:

Why practice flexing the toes when you’re trying to extend them back? There’s a pendulum theory out there that claims gaining mobility in the opposite direction helps drive movement in the intended direction.

   A                 B                    C                     D                 E
If you can only get to ‘D’, getting movement/ momentum to ‘A’ helps drive mobility to ‘E’.
photo credit:
Toe deficiency are most apparent in half-kneel position or split squats.  Being able to drive that back toe/ ball of foot down and forward against the ground helps activate that back glute and keep you locked into the stance, especially in the case of added weight or external resistance.
These wall press front foot elevated lunges help get the idea across:

Tuck pelvis and push the wall with hips.                   Emphasize that back side drive by elevating front   
                                                                                   toe to the wall (tap, not kick through)
My final case for toe importance comes from this video from Dr Andreo Spina.  It’s entitled “foot strengthening” (originally used it my feet, part 2 post), but when watched in its entirety, you realize it’s actually a toe strengthening post.

Try making toe function a priority for a while and notice how it effects your performance.
  • Foot function is dictated by toe function
  • The big toe should extend close to 90-degrees
  • Drive motion in the opposite direction to gain pendulum-like momentum and mobility in the desired direction
  • Static stretching of the toes occurs sitting back on the heels, knees down on the ground
  • Dynamic stretching of the toes occurs with knees up, controlling the knee drop to ground, either unilaterally or bilaterally

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