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Prevent Falls by Building a Stronger Big Toe (3 Amazing Exercises!)

Last weekend we taught our newest course, Defying Gravity: Brain-Based Fall Prevention and Fall Preparation, to over 250 amazing Z-Health professionals. It was a blast!

One key idea we discussed during the course was how vital it is to strengthen the big toe to help both fall prevention and overall movement performance. Unfortunately, few people are aware of the need for big toe strength, and even fewer have a good grasp on exercise progressions that work well. We want to fix that in today’s blog.

Why Strengthen the Big Toe?

  • Recent research highlights the importance of the big toe in maintaining balance, stability, and efficient force transfer during movement. 
  • The big toe plays a crucial role in balance and propulsion during walking and other activities. 
  • The flexor hallucis longus, the primary muscle responsible for big toe movement, is essential for maintaining the medial longitudinal arch (MLA) and ensuring proper force distribution across the foot. 
  • Weakness in the flexor hallucis longus muscle can lead to instability, inefficient force transfer, and an increased risk of falls.
  • In research settings, older adults with stronger big toe flexor muscles demonstrate better balance and are less likely to fall compared to those with weaker muscles.

How Do We Strengthen It?

Like any other muscle, in order to strengthen the big toe we need a training program that creates progressive overload. However, we also must keep in mind the context in which toe strength is needed the most: during standing, walking, running, and jumping. This means that we eventually need to load the big toe while in a standing position to improve contextual strength and coordination.

Here is a simple, but effective, progression of three exercises that we love.

Seated Big Toe Isometric Press:

  • Sit in a chair with your foot flat on the ground. 
  • Lift your big toe off the ground and grab it with your hand or a strap and gently pull it into full extension.
  • Without allowing any movement to occur, curl your big toe down toward the floor against the resistance of your hand.
  • Hold the contraction for 7-8 seconds and release.
  • Do 10 sets of this exercise twice per day.

    Seated Big Toe Curls with Resistance

    • Sit in a chair with the heel of your foot elevated on a tennis ball or other object. It should be high enough that your foot is in the same position it would be at the top of a calf raise.
    • Place a medicine ball or other weight on top of your knee.
    • Begin pressing into the ground to lift the weight and as you do so, lift your 4 lessor toes off the ground so that only the big toe is in contact.
    • You can increase the effectiveness of this exercise by also pulling your heel toward your butt as you perform the contraction.
    • Each repetition should take 3-5 seconds.
    • Do 10 repetitions.
    • Rest, and then do one more set of 10 repetitions.

    Toe Taps

    • Begin standing.
    • While standing, lift your big toe while keeping the rest of your foot flat on the ground.
    • Then press your big toe down and lift the other toes. 
    • Alternate for 1-2 minutes to improve big toe awareness, coordination, and strength.

      Integrating Big Toe Exercises into a Fall Prevention Program

      To maximize the benefits of these exercises, it is essential to integrate them into a comprehensive fall prevention program. Here are some tips for incorporating them into your routine:

      1. Consistency is Key: Perform the exercises regularly, ideally 3-5 times per week, to build and maintain strength.
      2. Progress Gradually: Start with lower resistance and shorter hold times, gradually increasing as your strength improves.
      3. Combine with Other Balance Exercises: Integrate these exercises with other balance and strength training activities from our fall prevention program.
      4. Monitor Progress: Keep track of your improvements! 

      While it is a weird concept for many people to focus so intensely on one small part of the body, the research is clear: strengthening the big toe is a vital fall prevention strategy. Increasing your big toe strength can improve your balance, stability, overall foot strength, movement, and performance. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

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