In my last article, we learned about big toe extension and the one and only muscle that does this, the extensor hallucis longus (the EHL). We learned how a limited range of motion of the EHL can, over time, have disastrous consequences. We learned that Tom Myers coined the phrase, “Low Velocity, High Impact” which I smartly used to describe these disastrous consequences. We learned that Hallux is a fancy word for the big toe.
So pour your wine, settle in, gird your loins and as the French say, “Courage, mes amis.”
I ended Part One on a bit of a cliffhanger. If you recall, I described an apocalyptic full-body collapse that stemmed from limited big toe extension. We had gotten through a gruesome if not theatrical “high impact” description of total body collapse. We continue now with this concept of “low velocity.”
As for the “low velocity,” let’s do the math. Considering that we take anywhere from two thousand to ten thousand steps a day, if those steps are taken with less than optimal big toe extension, the body will initiate a chain-reaction of somatic events that happen at a snail’s pace. You may not even notice as your body adjusts and does what it can to maintain postural homeostasis while incurring the least amount of resistance as possible. This is what our body does when we aren’t mindful, or as we in the Yoga Tune Up® community like to say, “embodied.” Our body is always on the hunt for the path of least resistance, much to the detriment of our entire living system.
“But, Chadd,” you may ask, “how can I get more…uh..bodied with regards to my big toe?” “The answer is simple, old chum. It’s three words and a registration symbol: Yoga Tune Up®
The following YTU mini-sequence will restore a more optimal range of motion of the EHL through strengthening, lengthening and toning of the extensor hallucis longus using both active and passive stretching techniques. These are terrific as both preventative and therapeutic measures, as well as keeping the big toe joint lubricated and flush with plenty of blood. Finally, these exercises will make you realize that your big toe exists! And this is the first step towards embodied awareness of our vessel of consciousness we like to call, “Me.” And I don’t think it’s too far-flung a thought to suggest that big toe extension is a – if not the – key ingredient to the massive recipe that is our everyday functional movement.
If the extensor hallucis longus could talk, I believe it would echo the sentiment once uttered by Ron Burgandy. It would say to us, “I’m kind of a big deal.”
1. Shin Splints Treatment. This is an awesome treatment for and excellent preventative of shin splints. But an added bonus is an indirect massage of the EHL, which is not easily accessed directly as it lies deep to the other shin muscles. The tacky grip of YTU Therapy Balls helps restore some glide back to the muscles of the shin including the EHL, which in turn restores a more functional range of motion to big toe and ankle movement.
2. Barbie Doll Foot. Now that the EHL is awakened with some restored glide from the Shin Splints Treatment, we can get more proactive through controlled eccentric and concentric contractions of the big toe and ankle.
3. Sitting Seza with a Strap. This is a great and powerful – maybe slightly uncomfortable – exercise that awakens the EHL with the closed-chain, body-weight bearing shortening of the muscle as you dorsiflex the ankles and extend the toes while sitting on the heels. This contraction is passive due to the closed-chain of toes and knees, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel it! Then, we go the other way with a strong stretch of the EHL as the feet flip under into plantar flexion. Awaken and lengthen. Two birds, one Yoga Tune Up® posture.
These exercises will help to not only awaken your EHL, but improve your overall proprioception and embodiment of your feet AND prevent total body collapse!
Enjoyed this article? Read Ignoring Your Calves Could Land You in Hot Water
Thanks Chad! You can’t stress enough how important foot health is to the entire body! I had no idea how immobile my ankles were until I immobilized them. lol Thanks so much!
Such a great sequence of ball work and movements for the feet/ankle!! I actually did this today and my arch of my foot started cramping. Big indicator I need to do this regularly to improve my EHL strength. I bet it would really help me with my running too!
These 3 YTU exercises really helped my plantar fashciitis and my balance as my feet tend to supinate. This will help me to realign my feet and have better overall posture.
Thank you for providing these exercise in a sequence as I had a question about how to warm up for Sitting Seza. It seems like too intense of a stretch to go directly into. Here though, with the rolling first in the shin splints treatment, and then the more internal muscle warming action with the Barbie doll feet exercise, my students’ feet and legs should be ready (or as ready as the could be) for sitting seza.
Thank you, Chad. This will help me with explaining to my clients that their foot pain is connected to their leg tension and I love that I can just email them this blog for their own self care instruction.
Awesome post. Super informative and fun – I lol’d more times than I’ll admit. To quote another commenter “You had me at Ron Burgundy”. The question is: will I ever be able to think about big toe extension without hearing Will Ferrel’s voice?
I just beginning to roll my flexor hallucis longus muscle and do some doorsiflexion of my friend hallux and it change all my movements !!! Walking less external rotation, sit with less eversion of the feet, getting upstair with toes in line with me ! I seem like I have new feet !! So smooth ! I am feeling like a dancer without restriction !
And read about the extensor hallucis longus give me new opportunities to keep going and have new enthousiast results ! Merci Chadd !!
Love the instruction and the sequence you have put together! My halluxes (is that the plural form?) are eternally grateful!
Rad Chad!!! Great article and so helpful to have this available to look back upon to do myself and pass along to patients in need. Wonderfully described in your DOM’s my friend. I hope the next time I do this I won’t be cramping as much like I did in class. Thank you!
Great dry humor with just a touch of sweetness, yet still intellectually satisfying. An extension of the in- class training on Sitting Seza to expanding on the importance of the big toe.
This is a great follow-up to your last article and it is exactly what I was hoping for. It is such a good anecdote to demonstrate 1) how everything in our bodies is connected, 2) that sometimes (most of the time) the effects of a blind spot are not immediate or obvious, 3) how important it is to have a regular movement practice that addresses your entire body, and 4) yes the *entire* body, not just the “vanity” muscles.
Oh no, Chadd’s done it again with the double duty.
I left my previous comment with a bit of a cliffhanger as well, not sure if I was going to actually take action on igniting my digits…but here you’ve given me a road map to do just that! That’s what I call a #flawpportunity for me!
Thanks Chadd & virtual Jill, on to the balls I go. Sh*t is about to get rEHL!
Great info on the big toe, we see in our physio therapy department so many people with messed up feet especially the big toe and many resort to surgery which doesn”t always go well,I do encourage patients to explore exercises and ball rolling. I will now work in Jill’s exercises as well especially sitting seza with a strap.the strap is new for me and it makes a big difference.
Like your style! Thank you for posting.
You had me at “Ron Burgundy!” Who knew the EHL was such a big deal? I do now! And I’m now doing ballerina feet as I type. And gosh, it really feels great. Thanks for explaining this in such a user-friendly way. I’ll be using these exercises after I’ve slept all night, sat for a long time, stood for a long time – basically all the time. I occasionally abuse my feet with high heels (mostly for my regular job) and this feels like a good way to restore good foot health, especially on those days.
I learned of the importance of the feet and toes when I lost them and observation of the aftermath. Yet still these 3 YTU poses surprised the heck out of me and were not easy to do. They made me realize even more of the love I need to give the very thing that carries me day in and out
I never realized how important it is to massage my shins and dorsiflex my toes and ankles in seated seza to to strengthen them which will in turn help me one day avoid a total body collapse that you described. Thank you for the tips.
Love the tutorial and the big toe emphasis! It all starts there when you are coming from a place of neuroma pain.
I teach thai massage which is done on a mat on the floor. My students often have a hard time because we sit a lot on our heels with toes in extension. I will include these exercices to help them get comfortable faster. Thank you.
Ha! Love your humor. Big toe range of motion IS a big deal. Thanks for the information and tips.
I am a big fan of the Shin Splints Treatment. This part of the leg was a mystery for me in terms of finding a way to self massage. Using the YTU balls in this area is like magic.
I enjoyed your wording describing the break down or chain reaction that can happen when the feet are ignored “apocalyptic full-body collapse that stemmed from limited big toe extension” I work closely with a client with club foot and while different than what you were describing initiates a total breakdown throughout the body without proper maintenance. Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls allow her to take some of her power back by rolling out at home.
I sustained a Lis Franc injury last summer, and this has helped so much with the lingering pain and tightness!
Thanks for this article! I’m beginning to think that I am “over extending” my big toes. In an effort to create more of an arch in my feet after a serious injury, I’m being more conscious about lifting my toes. When I do this, I’m finding my big toe is flexing very high in comparison to the rest of my toes. Should I be concerned?
In our Yoga tune up level one training class we were learning about toe extensions when, we were sitting on the floor, stretching and lengthening each individual toe.
Thanks, when i take classes and teach i notice in Vajrasana (thunderbolt) which is essentially sitting seza i see people sickle their feet. I have them put a block between them and squeeze, but alas they still sickle. I love Jill’s variation with the strap, it forces the feet into proper alignment. I appreciate the video because it answered another of my questions. I have many students whom this pose is super uncomfortable, and (dah ha!), have them lean forward! Great because, I see them try to but then think it’s wrong, so they inch back and struggle. Now i will give them permission!
Yoga Tune Up is AWESOME!