The ToePro foot and ankle exercise platform, created by the legendary Dr. Tom Michaud—chiropractor and author of the influential textbook Human Locomotion: The Conservative Management of Gait-Related Disorders—is designed to enhance musculoskeletal function by exercising the muscles of the foot and lower leg in their lengthened positions. Research shows that, in addition to improving agility, running speed, and horizontal jump distance, foot strengthening exercises can also prevent falls in the elderly. Indeed, using this device can be helpful for individuals of all ages and abilities to improve foot and lower leg function and enhance athletic performance.
Key points or segments explored in this helpful instructional video include the following:
0:00: The rationale for strengthening feet and lower legs
4:16: An explanation of the ToePro's design (i.e., how it was constructed to enable enhanced foot function)
5:08: Specific instructions on how to use the ToePro foot and ankle exercise platform
10:30: Recommendations for how many sets and reps to perform with the device
14:05: A discussion of the importance of the long toe muscles
16:24: Thoughts on how to conclude the ToePro exercise protocol
17:13: Alternative exercises that you can perform using the ToePro
Jump to any of these video segments by clicking the time markers above. For those who would like additional supporting information about how to use this innovative foot health device, let's now walk through the various phases of the ToePro exercise protocol in the sections that follow.
The ToePro Protocol: Phase 1 (Warm-Up)
Dr. Michaud recommends performing a brief warm-up prior to using the ToePro device in earnest to strengthen the feet and lower legs. To do so, place your ToePro near a wall or any stable surface and position your toes along the base of the foam so that the heads of your metatarsal bones (i.e., the ball of your foot) are contacting the floor or ground. Now, keep your hips and torso aligned as you slowly lean forward while pushing down vigorously with your toes. Your fingertips should be close to but not touching the wall. Lean forward as far as you can safely go, and hold this position for 3 seconds. You should be pushing your toes into the foam as hard as possible with each repetition. Dr. Michaud recommends performing this “warm-up lean” 20 times.
The ToePro Protocol: Phase 2 (Strength Workout)
Phase 2 of the ToePro exercise protocol involves performing strengthening heel lifts using the device. While contacting a wall or stable surface, place the tips of your toes into the center of the front crest of the ToePro device while shifting your weight to the outside of your feet (i.e., keep your arches raised or elevated). Now, raise your heels while pressing down firmly with your toes, gradually shifting weight from the outer aspect of your forefoot to the inner aspect of your forefoot. Shifting your weight toward the inner aspect of your forefoot forces you to use your peroneal muscles in your lower leg, which can improve running performance and help prevent plantar fascia problems, Achilles tendinitis, and ankle sprains.
While raising your heels, focus on driving your inner forefoot and toes firmly into the foam and hold this position for a few seconds. Gradually build up to 4 sets of 25 repetitions, moving at a moderate pace (i.e., spend 2 seconds going up and 2 seconds coming down). If you fatigue at any point during the exercise, lean against the wall to take some stress off your feet and legs. The first 2 sets of this exercise are performed with your knees straight, and subsequent sets are performed with the knees slightly bent, which better isolates the leg and arch muscles. It’s important that you spend less than 30 seconds resting between each set, as short rest periods have been proven to accelerate muscle remodeling.
Finish the exercise by holding your heels 1 inch off the ground for up to 60 seconds. Try to balance with your hands close to but not touching the wall for the final 60 seconds. During the final part of the exercise, make sure you roll in as far as you can onto the inner portion of the big toe. Resistance from the foam strengthens the abductor hallucis muscle. Maintaining a strong abductor hallucis is especially important in people with bunions, as this muscle helps maintain alignment of the big toe. To increase resistance as you get stronger, place your ToePro a few feet back from a wall and push against the wall as you drive your toes downward. You increase resistance beneath your toes by pushing into the wall with more force.
So, to recap:
Warm up by performing 20 forward “leans” as described earlier (remember to avoid touching the wall in front of you if you can)
Gradually build up to performing 4 sets of 25 heel lifts (2 seconds up, 2 seconds down); roll from the outside of your forefoot to the inside of your forefoot with each lift; really focus on depressing the foam with your forefoot and toes
The first 2 sets should be performed with knees straight; the second 2 sets should be performed with knees slightly bent
Rest no longer than 30 seconds between sets
Complete the exercise by holding your heel 1 inch off the ground for 60 seconds (try to balance with your hands close to, but not touching, the wall in front of you)
Perform a post-exercise calf stretch and then practice firing your foot and lower leg muscles while walking and running (see the section immediately below for details)
Dr. Michaud recommends repeating this routine five times per week for 12 weeks to build sufficient strength and resilience in your lower extremities. Note that throughout the entire exercise, your toes should be forcefully grasping the crescent-shaped toe crest. Contact with this initial portion of the crest causes you to recruit the short toe flexors, while contacting the center groove forces you to contract the long toe flexors. Strengthening the short toe flexors is important when treating plantar fascia problems, as the flexor digitorum brevis has the ability to offload the plantar fascia. The long toe flexor muscles, on the other hand, play an important role in preventing metatarsal stress fractures by distributing pressure away from the forefoot and toward the tips of the toes, and therefore benefit from being strengthened.
The ToePro Protocol: Phase 3 (Post-Exercise Calf Stretch)
After using the ToePro device to actively build lower extremity strength, the third and final phase of the ToePro protocol involves performing a post-exercise calf stretch. Dr. Michaud recommends stretching your calves by shifting your weight back while keeping your arches raised or elevated. Performing this movement with your arches elevated allows you to stretch your calf muscles while not overstretching your plantar fascia. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Finally, after strengthening your foot and arch muscles and performing your post-exercise calf stretch, you have to teach your newly-strengthened muscles how to fire while walking and running. To do this, practice pushing off with the tips of your toes while walking or running for five minutes, twice a day. The deliberate action of pushing down eventually becomes an ingrained movement pattern, and the strength gains achieved through the ToePro exercises can be naturally incorporated into your walking and running.
Variations on Ways to Use the ToePro
You can perform alternative exercises using your ToePro platform by standing sideways along the base of the device with either the inner or outer portion of your forefoot contacting the foam. By performing heel raises in this position, you can increase activity in the peroneus longus and tibialis posterior muscles, respectively. Indeed, performing heel raises with your inner forefoot supported by the ToePro strengthens your peroneus longus muscle, while doing heel raises with your outer forefoot supported by the ToePro strengthens your tibialis posterior muscle. Strengthening the tibialis posterior muscle can make a big difference when managing Achilles tendon injuries.
Conversely, strengthening the peroneus longus muscle is important when treating a range of forefoot problems. Because the first metatarsal bone is twice as wide and four times as strong as the other metatarsals, strengthening the peroneus longus allows the first metatarsal head to push down with more force, shifting pressure away from the central forefoot. The resultant shift of pressure toward the inner forefoot is helpful when dealing with a variety of injuries, especially interdigital neuritis, hammertoes, and metatarsal stress fractures.
The Human Locomotion ToePro: A Platform for Building Better Feet
Fast, efficient, and effective, the entire ToePro exercise routine should take less than 10 minutes to perform. Because of its simple shape and design, the ToePro strengthening platform is safe and easy to use, especially for seniors who may have trouble setting up conventional strengthening devices that incorporate moving parts and/or rubber bands. Dr. Michaud notes that, because ToePro exercises produce relatively long-term strength gains, you don’t have to do these exercises daily for the rest of your life (unless you want to). Performing the ToePro exercises five times per week for three months each year should be enough to maintain strength.
Occasionally, especially in people with weak feet, muscle fluttering or cramping can occur in the calf or arch muscles after performing these exercises. These are harmless symptoms that become less of a problem as you become stronger. Because of the risk of developing mild muscle strains, Dr. Michaud suggests that you begin these exercises slowly and only increase sets and repetitions as you begin to feel stronger. Again, it usually takes around 12 weeks to fully strengthen these very important and often overlooked muscles. Enjoy the process of doing so, and enjoy the musculoskeletal health gains that come from using the Human Locomotion ToePro foot and ankle exercise platform!
Dr. Marty Hughes is a chiropractic physician, or DC. He received his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College (WSCC), now known as the University of Western States (UWS). Dr. Marty has always been interested in foot health, due to the connection between the feet and the spine. He has worked as a freelance writer for LiveStrong.com, for whom he contributed over 2,200 health-and-fitness articles. He is a co-founder of Natural Footgear and an ardent supporter of natural foot care approaches. Dr. Marty enjoys road cycling, trail running, hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing as well as exploring the mountains of Western North Carolina.
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