How many people really pay attention to your toe flexibility? For most people gentle stretching for your toes or “toe yoga” can help you achieve a more efficient running form and increase your speed.
The big toe accounts for approximately 85% of foot control and balance during walking and running. During the toe-off or push-off phase of a normal gait cycle, proper strength and range of motion of the big toe helps provide propulsion from foot and maintain alignment of the ankle, knee, and hip.
When the big toe is weak or inflexible, the lack of support will shorten the push-off and cause the foot and ankle to collapse, spinning the foot outward, the knee inward, and dropping your pelvis. All of these compensations will lead to a sloppy running form that will slow you down and put you at risk for injury.
TEST: With your shoes and socks off, start by sitting with knees and ankles at 90°. Scoot forward until knees are directly above toes. Then reach down and lift the big toe while maintaining ground contact with the ball of the foot. The big toe should raise at least 30° otherwise the plantar fascia is too tight.
STRETCH: If your plantar fascia is tight you can stretch it by rolling the bottom of the foot with a tennis or lacrosse ball, as well as practicing this test as a stretch.
EXERCISES: 1. Start in the same position as the test, instead of using your hand to stretch the big toe try lifting your toe with only your muscles. If that is too easy, you can apply a small resistance with your hand to the top of your toe.
2. Progress to pushing the big toe into the ground without curling, while raising the 4 smaller toes, this will help train to isolate the big toe. Once proper toe-planting has been mastered, try the exercise standing and leaning forward from the ankles to shift a greater amount of weight onto the front of the foot and big toe. Use the strength of your big toe to push your body back upright. Repeat 20-50 times.