A few months ago, The Times wrote about how improving your feet strength can improve your moving posture. I think it was a good introduction into foot mobility however I believe there are better exercises for the feet.
So before we look at the exercises, a brief look at why the feet are so important (but are often overlooked).
As the only part of our body that’s in contact with the ground when we stand and walk, the feet will dictate the way our body moves. Even a little restriction in the ability to lift your big toe off the ground (they should lift up to 60 degrees off the ground) can have big effects on the whole body. This restriction alone can lead to tightness in your groin, hip or lower back. This is because the hip will lack the ability to open up fully when walking and consequently not allow the joints and tissues around the hip to fully open and close.
When it comes to the foot, I prioritise big toe dorsiflexion (lifting your toes off the ground) and ankle dorsiflexion (bring your shin towards your foot or vice versa) as these will have the biggest effect on your gait and posture. With all the exercises, the movements should be done in a controlled manner and in a pain free range. Also, do them barefoot (or if it’s cold, with finger toe socks like me in the images below).
When trying to improve big toe dorsiflexion, there are two options. You can try both and see which one you prefer.
AiM Big Toe
Place your big toe on a door frame or table leg (or in my case a filing cabinet) – see images below.
Slide your foot down towards the ground, causing your big toe to bend, until the ball of your foot hits the floor. If your foot is unable to hit the floor, move your foot slightly further back and try again.
Keeping your heel on the floor, try to get your knee to touch the door frame/table leg and then bring your knee back. Do this 10 times on each leg.
FRC Big Toe
The setup is the same as the above.
Keeping your heel on the floor, bring your knee as far forward as possible. Then hold this position for 2 minutes – you should feel a stretch on the bottom of your foot.
After two minutes, without your foot moving, push your big toe into the wall gradually increasing the pressure and then hold it for 10 seconds. Without moving the foot again, try to pull your big toe off the wall. As you are in a stretched position, your toe will not move. What you’re doing is trying to get the muscles attached to your toe to contract.
Pointing your foot directly at the wall, bend your knee in line with your second toe until you can feel a stretch in the back of your leg. (If you get pain or a pinch on the top of your foot, I would suggest you stop doing the exercise and go see a therapist about it). Hold the stretch for 2 minutes.
After 2 minutes, without moving your body, push the ball of your foot into the ground for 10 seconds. Then without moving your body, try to lift the ball of the same foot off the ground for 10 seconds.
Do these every day for four weeks and see if you can feel any difference.
Below is a video with additional exercises to improve intrinsic foot strength