Each day I exercise my toes. I really do. I’ve been doing toe exercises for about 15 years, but started years after I began training barefoot. Patience pays off, I suppose.
After teaching myself how to execute safe barefoot cardio movement for nearly 2 years, my feet really began communicating with my brain. I have to admit, it took a while to understand the importance of using the little guys. Now, when speaking to personal trainers, instructors and and my clients, I explain that toes are small but mighty! They’re incredible functional accessories, which are typically overlooked – but are critically important.
When wearing a traditional shoe, 5 toes are jammed into one small space. People use their shod foot as a paddle. Although one big paddle (or giant fin) might work well under water, yet, this is not always ideal for
moving on stable surfaces. Also, most typically, toes are pressed together, and over time become re-formed (or… de-formed… hence, bunions etc.) (Yuk!)
Actually, allowing the toes to work independently may be more effective than the paddle approach. In total, the 10 toes are home to more than 25 joints. These joints contain hundreds of proprioceptors – which feed our central nervous system valuable information about grade of force (as the foot touches the ground), stabilization and balance. The toes are also responsible for propulsion and push-off when walking, running and jumping.
Again: the toes feed our brain information about how hard we are landing, and are partially responsible for moving us off the ground. Furthermore, could you imagine trying to balance and stabilize your body without those 10 little guys?
In order for toes to be efficient, we need to re-develop the “smart toes” which we had when we were infants. Babies have strong, agile little toes with plenty of flexibility and neural connectivity. Baby’s feet are functional.. primal. Most adult toes, after being “cast” in traditional shoes for 20, 30 or 40 years have stiff joints, atrophied muscles and lazy neuromuscular connections.
No worries… there’s hope! Exercise your feet. Keep your feet circulated, strong and smart – like the rest of your body.
In the photo above, I’m demonstrating 2 exercises: the Great Toe Tap, and the Pinkie Toe Tap. This exercise sequence will take 3 minutes each day – and is an excellent sequence to practice before a barefoot or minimal shoe workout.
Great Toe Tap: 1 minute.
Lift all 10 toes up. Tap ONLY your great (big) toe down, as many times as you can within 60 seconds.
Scoring: Excellent >75 taps Good=50-74 Fair>30-49 Poor= 29 or less
Pinkie toe Tap: 1 minute
Lift all 10 toes up. Tap ONLY your pinkie (little) toe down, as many times as you can within 60 seconds.
Scoring: Excellent >85 taps Good=60-84 Fair>40-59 Poor= 39 or less
Alternating Tap Sets: 1 minute
Lift all 10 toes up. Tap your pinkie (little) toe down and then your great (big) toe down – alternate little-big-little-big – as many times as you can within 60 seconds.
Scoring: Can you do more than 30 sets in one minute? Excellent! (Keep practicing).