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!