4 moves for stronger toes

A runner’s big toe has a big job. When your foot strikes the ground, it helps stiffen the tissues along your arch. This creates a stable platform, giving your foot more ability to propel you forward. But if your big toe is stiff or misaligned it can’t do its job as well as it should, which can disrupt your mechanics, says physiotherapist Christopher Johnson. He suggests testing your range of motion (see Flex test, below) and, if needed, doing these other exercises three times a week. 

FLEX TEST

WHY Determines your toe’s range of motion.

HOW Use one hand to press down on your four smaller toes while using the other hand to pull up on the big toe. The angle formed by your big toe and the ground should be at least 35 degrees (or high enough to clear the width of an ice lolly stick). Not there? You probably have hallux rigidus (aka stiff big toe) and may benefit from these moves. 

Body saw

WHY Improves mobility of the toe joints (bonus: it also strengthens the core).


HOW Start in a plank position on your forearms. Push your heels back so you feel a stretch in your calves. Then shift your body forward so that your shoulders move beyond your elbows, rocking from the balls of your feet to your toes. Continue for 30 seconds, rest, then repeat twice more.

Marching

WHY Trains you to keep the toe in its proper position.

HOW Lift your left leg to hip height while keeping your right big toe planted on the ground. (Keep the toe pointing straight as if it’s facing noon on a clock.) March forward, landing softly on your left foot as you lift your right leg; then repeat the move with the other leg. Keep your toes relaxed and on the ground while in the single-leg stance. Do for one minute. Rest and repeat three times. 

Step-up and push-up

WHY Works the muscles that keep the big toe in proper alignment.


HOW Stand with your right foot on a low step, your left foot on the ground. Drive your left knee up as you rise onto the ball of your right foot. Lower your right heel down with control, making sure it lands directly behind your forefoot. Return your left foot to the floor. Do 10 repetitions, then switch sides. Repeat for one to three minutes. 

Toe dexterity drill

WHY Strengthens your foot and toe muscles to help decrease the stress of impact by distributing the force across a broader area.

HOW Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes forward. Lift your right big toe, keeping your other toes flat on the ground (A). Lower your big toe to the ground, then lift your other toes while keeping your big toe planted (B). Perform (as best you can) three sets of 15 repetitions on each foot.