We all have our own walking or running style, and it begins with the feet.
The ankle needs to flex for us to advance over the foot and move forward, but have you ever wondered what your toes are doing inside (or outside) your shoes?
Are they curled or relaxed?
Look around and observe people’s toes when they’re wearing slippers or open-toe sandals.
Chances are half of them will be gripping or clenching their toes as they take a step forward.
This will affect their postures as well.
Our toes are responsible for many actions, including the ability to push off the ground when walking or climbing stairs.
Wearing shoes that are too small in length or width will result in cramped toes.
Similarly, wearing larger size shoes with too much space will naturally cause the toes to clench as they grip the shoe to prevent it from slipping off.
Eventually, the toes start to curl or overlap, leading to problems in other body parts, including the knees, hips and lower back.
If your toes are curled, stiff and cannot spread apart well, your ability to do simple movements may be impaired.
Other joints and muscles will then have to compensate for this weakness.
Ballet dancers especially are known to have ugly, and sometimes, deformed feet.
Due to the constant strain on the lower extremities caused by multiple leaps, twists, turns and working in unnatural body positions, their toes are constantly in a stressed state and may go out of alignment.
Balancing on the balls of the feet (demi pointe) is such an important component of dance that students tend to clench their toes inside the shoes, thinking they can get a better grip on the floor.
The same thing happens when yoga students attempt single-leg balancing postures and start gripping the floor with their toes.
When you ground your feet properly on the floor, keeping all toes extended and relaxed, you are actually much more stable and in control while balancing.
Runners may scrunch their toes together inside their shoes, which can cause disproportionate weight distribution and blisters on the toes.
Also, wearing socks that are too restrictive or lacing your shoestrings too tight increases the likelihood of toe-curling.
Spread them toes
Separating your toes with lamb’s wool, silicone toe gel, paper tape or socks with toe inserts, can prevent curling and protect against blisters whilst helping stretch out constricted tissues.
Just like the stretches we do after a workout, the toes need to be stretched as well.
The easiest way to do this is to get some toe spreaders or spacers.
These cheap things are made of silicone gel (you can also get the toe separators used for pedicures) and designed to undo the damage that modern-day shoes inflict on our feet.
Start with five minutes every night when you’re watching the television or sitting idle.
As your toes adjust to the sensation and manipulation, you can gradually build up the time to 20 minutes.
If you start to feel pain, take them off.
Some people wear these toe spacers inside their shoes, but you may need to get a shoe with a wider toebox to fit them in comfortably.
Here are two of my preferred exercises to stretch your toes out:
Sit on a chair and cross one foot over your thigh.
Separate your toes by placing a finger each in between them (those with fat fingers may have to struggle a bit!).
Then squeeze your toes together to pinch the fingers hard.
Hold for 10 seconds and release.
Repeat eight times and switch legs.
Once your remove your fingers, you can literally feel the toes “breathing”.
Place your feet flat on the floor and lift just your toes off while separating them from each other as far as you can.
Hold for 10 seconds and repeat a few times.
Editor’s note: Two Fit is going on a temporary hiatus and will return in November (2022).
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email email@example.com. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.