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Big Toe & Balance
Mobility & Strength of the Big Toe
2 Key Big Toe Exercises

Today we’re gonna be talking about your big toe and balance, and I give you a couple of quick exercises that you can use to improve your balance by improving the flexibility and strength of the big toe. If you are new to us, I’m Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance. We are a brain-based education company. We work with doctors, coaches, and therapists around the world. So if you’re interested in bringing modern neuroscience into what you do with clients, check out all of our free resources and subscribe here. Alright, we’ve been doing a long series of information on balance training because in June of this year, we’re doing a live and live stream course called Defying Gravity. And it’s all about a modern brain-based approach to fall prevention and what I call fall preparation.

One of the things that we have to understand is that there are biomechanical factors, there are neurological factors, there are cardiovascular factors, there’s all these different things come into both preventing and preparing people for inevitable falls. When we dive deeply into the research, one of the things that’s obvious is we have to look at the feet. We have to look at the sensation of the feet, the strength of the feet, and specifically we need to look at the big toe.

So stand up with me and what I want you to first of all feel in your own body is the difference between having a big toe when it comes to balance and not having a good big toe when it comes to balance. So if you’re just standing and you keep your pelvis kinda neutral body straight, and you begin to lean forward and you’re paying attention to the pressure sensation in your toes, you’ll feel all of your toes begin to grip the ground. But particularly as you press that envelope a little bit further and further, you’ll feel your big toes becoming more and more accurate.

So normally with my clients, I go, look, we need you to understand what your big toes do. So I’ll have ’em come back to this position, try this with me now. Lift your big toes up off the ground and then try to go to that same forward lean envelope. And what you’ll find is that the angle at which you lose balance happens sooner when your big toes not engaged with the ground. So what we have to look at then is the mobility of the big toe and then also the strength of the big toe.

Here are the two exercises I wanna share with you today. We’re gonna start off working on the mobility, particularly into extension of the big toe because a lot of people, as they develop bunions, they can develop what’s called a rigid first ray or first toe. All that can prevent the big toe from bending normally in your gait cycle, and that’s gonna have a pretty big impact on your balance as well.

So the way that I like to work on this is utilizing something that will allow me to get my big toe into extension while my other toes are on the ground. A lot of people will teach this using a towel or something nice and soft. That doesn’t work very well for me personally. What I like to use is a stick. The only problem with the stick is it will roll. So I like to then tuck it under something to keep it a little bit constricted here. This is a basic setup of the exercise.

I’m gonna take my four non-big toes, put them on the ground, and my big toe is wrapping on top of the stick or a towel or you know, something foam or something comfortable for you. Now you can see that the stick’s already holding my big toe into extension. All that I need to do now is drive my knee forward past that toe. And you’re gonna feel a really specific kind of interesting stretching sensation through typically the arch of the foot. Now, once you’re in that position, I like to hold somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds. And personally as I do this, I will rotate my knee and hip, in and out. As I do that, I’ll get a little bit of a shifting sensation in that stretch, and as it begins to loosen up, I’ll be able to drive my knee a little bit further forward.

Now, over time, you may need to elevate that, but obviously we’re not trying to turn this, you know, we’re not trying to do splits with your toes, so we just wanna make sure that it’s nice and comfortable so that as you’re stepping or as you are leaning, that toe can really start to engage with the ground. So if I have my big toe up and I’m curling it down, almost making a fist with my foot, that’s toe flexion, but I really wanna specifically hone in on the big toe.

One of the easy ways to do this is to use a smaller band. You may have to actually wrap it a couple different ways so it doesn’t slide off. I then typically will put my other toes on the floor and then begin just by curling down against the resistance of the band into the floor. Now the problem that you run into with this is at some point we want to increase that range of motion, which means I may want to then elevate my foot off the ground, go into that full extension and then wrap down. Now like I said, the problem with this is if you’re using one of these smaller bands, it can slip off and hit you in the face or whatever. So you need to make sure that that’s well attached. You have some other ribbon bands that you can use that are maybe a little bit more suitable for working on the feet, but there’s lots of different ways that you can modify it. Just wanna make sure it doesn’t snap, snap off and pop you in the face.

As your toes get stronger, you can go to a larger band. And then obviously we have lots of different ways that we can begin working on increasing toe strength. Just like doing basic balance work, standing on the balls of our feet, this will engage those toe flexors. But one of the things that we have to consider eventually is that we want to make sure we’re beginning our strengthening exercises for the big toe with that toe in extension at a long muscle length. Because ultimately that’s gonna be super important as we’re thinking about engaging that big toe to improve our balance.

So these are two different approaches for today. A little bit of a mobility exercise, a little bit of a strength exercise, and hopefully you can apply these very quickly into what you’re doing. Remember that with a stretching exercise, we’re gonna do around 45 seconds, two to three reps of that. And for the strength training, probably 15 to 20 repetitions, three sets of that on each foot will go a long way toward improving the function of your foot and hopefully integrating well into your whole balance system.

Alright, good luck with this and let us know if you have any questions.

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