The willPower Method®| Smart Toes

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!)The willPower Method® | Baby Toes

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).

More resources: Sole Training® Proprioception & Balance Improving Balance


Stacey Lei Krauss

Stacey Lei Krauss

Stacey Lei Krauss is the creator and developer of the globally recognized barefoot cardio fusion program, The willPower Method®. Specializing in foot-fitness since 2000, she helps people understand why and how to develop healthy, fit bodies, from the ground up. Reiki practitioner and student of transformational arts, she's a mover, writer, traveler, and general truth-seeker. Recipient of the 2014 ECA Best Female Presenter Award, she's the Mindful Music Advisor for Power Music® and has programmed educational courses and workouts for Nike , Vibram FiveFingers®, BOSU®, Schwinn® Cycling, and Peak Pilates® .


  1. Maurita Marley
    Monday, April 15th, 2013 at 11:54 am ·

    My Vibrams are the most supportive shoe I ever use any more. When I teach my Senior’s group, they are very intrigued by my unusual looking shoes. I take every opportunity to teach them the importance of strengthening the feet. More and more of them have a growing interest and we even did sole training recently at the end of our class and they LOVED it!! We can reach everyone…baby steps…

  2. Jodi Cortes
    Saturday, January 12th, 2013 at 3:43 pm ·

    Yesterday I was at the gym doing squats in regular sneakers, both feet kept cramping it was terrible pain. I finally took my shoes off for the the rest of my workout and I was perfectly fine!! It was amazing!!

  3. staceylei
    Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 at 7:52 am ·

    markus: good question. you can TEACH your toes to move independently – but it will take a little time.
    sit on the floor and guide your toes using your fingers… Actually teach them to press and lift independently. I had to do it for a few exercises… so I know this works. Your toes should begin learn after about 5-6 rounds.
    Good luck!

  4. markus gerat
    Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 at 8:58 am ·

    what is a good exercise for beginners, if you are not able to move one of your toes without another? if i try to move my big toe, ALL toes of that foot go with it. it is the same if i try to move another toe seperatly.
    thanks for ideas

  5. M:eg McNeely
    Sunday, October 21st, 2012 at 2:54 pm ·

    I consider myself a testimony to having Patience in re-learning how to operate our toes and how practicing the above exercises pay off. When I first was introduced to willPower & grace my left toes said, “Are you jokiing. We can’t separate.” Now, after teaching willPower & grace for almost 2 years, they spread just fine. Practice and patience pays off!

  6. Kristen Foote
    Saturday, October 20th, 2012 at 7:35 pm ·

    At my Friday 5am class we tapped our pinkie toes and I spoke to the fact that working our toes makes them strong, supportive, and protective. Eighty minutes later as I rushed to get ready for my day I stubbed my toe on the step ladder in my closet. I didn’t realize the damage I had done until I put on my high heel boots and walked into school. When I couldn’t take it anymore I went to the nurse… She told me I would probably be out for six weeks.. I told her that “I have very strong toes..” Although my pinkie toe is still black and blue, I am pretty pain free today and i am thankful that I spend as much time strengthening my toes as I do my abs…hooray for foot fitness !

  7. Anne-Marie Samuel
    Saturday, October 20th, 2012 at 4:47 am ·

    Brilliant- I have started barefoot running but will definitely add in these toe exercises too!

  8. Patti Fine
    Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 at 3:31 pm ·

    Love this.
    It would be wonderful to have these in PDF format so we could print and hand them out in classes.
    They’ve all been so wonderful and informational. :)

  9. Kim Harring
    Saturday, October 13th, 2012 at 7:44 am ·

    Your feet/toes are your foundation, wake them up and make them strong! Walking or running barefoot will allow your toes to have far more range of motion, engaging more of your big toe during propulsion and landing. Your toes will flex, spread, grip the surface your on- you will see less pronation and more distribution of pressure. A natural doming of the arch will occur, building a stronger base for balance and control.
    While barefoot you receive a contious stream of information about the ground and your relationship to it. Connect with the ground!