I don’t know what came to your mind when you read that, but, I sure hope one thing that doesn't make your toes curl is exercise. More people than we think will experience Toe Gripping While Running, the fact is that it's our toes crying out for stability! I know I’ve shared this before & after at some point but this is the difference in my feet between July 2021 (left) and now (right).
Notice how the foot on the left is rigid and doesn’t move and the one on the right lengthens and spreads. Working on this simple movement has been HUGE for my body and especially my pelvic floor. When I first shared this comparison back in May, I got the question: Why do you have that sock under your toes? The whole point of this email is to answer that question. Simply It’s there to prevent me from trying to grip the ground with my toes.
I used to grip the ground with my toes like crazy, in all my squats and hinges. I could even feel myself doing it while I was walking, especially if my feet were slipping in the shoe at all. Even doing exercises where my feet weren’t on the ground, my toes would curl in desperation to try to create some sort of stability.
Here’s the thing about toe gripping:
1 - It prevents your feet from lengthening and spreading like they need to load into the ground.
Try to notice if you are doing it with any of your lower body exercises. If so, try this sock trick (just under the toes let the ball of the foot still fully touch the ground) or try the toe float as described HERE
2 - It probably means you are gripping other places in your body too: pelvic floor tension, jaw clenching… everything is connected.
Remember how I always say the body is smart? It’s going to try and find a strategy to achieve an outcome. This tension and gripping are trying to create safety and stability. It’s not the “best” solution but it is “a” solution.
Here’s the thing though. We can’t just take the strategy away, wash our hands of it in satisfaction and think the job is done.
Awareness certainly comes first. When you notice yourself gripping your toes, pelvic floor, and/or jaw make a conscious effort to relax it. Just trying to relax a tight pelvic floor only goes so far though! You need a new strategy! Take the toe float idea from the split squat in the link above. If/when you first try this, it might seem really unstable and hard. That’s because we took away your strategy! We need to replace the strategy with a new and “better” one if we want it to stick.
What are those strategies to help with toe gripping?
1 - Learning to truly pronate, lengthen at the foot, flex the knee, and ground into the floor (bye-bye toe gripping)
The key to this drill is going SLOW and letting all the movement come from flexing the knee forward. Learn how this relates to calf tightness and plantar fasciitis HERE.
2 - Learning to find length in the back of the pelvic floor and glutes.
This is different from just “relaxing.” Finding that length and loading that length is how we create force into the ground without just gripping and fighting those forces with tension. (bye-bye pelvic floor gripping)
The knee bent over the midfoot to load/lengthen is key to finding that length back there too!
You can read more about the glute/posterior pelvic floor length HERE.
3 - Getting stronger overall.
Strength equals stability!
*Bonus: Finding a home for your tongue at the roof of your mouth. The tongue on the soft palate up there helps stimulate the vagus nerve and tip the scales toward the parasympathetic (relaxed) state. Fun fact: this is why thumb-sucking is especially common for kids with a tongue tie. They replace that natural resting/soothing strategy of placing the tongue to the roof of their mouth with placing their thumb up there instead. (bye bye jaw gripping)
All of this requires that you can turn inward and connect with your body. Which actually does require that you relax a bit first. This stuff is all really hard when you are a giant ball of stress.
This is all stuff I’ve been working on with one of my athletes who was diagnosed with prolapse postpartum and suffers from stress incontinence with running.We had made great progress including some of the strategies above but then she got a stomach bug and puked her brains out for 24 hours. Afterward, it felt like she was back at square one with her incontinence; she felt like her whole body was “off.”
At the beginning of our next call, we tried a strategy I had sent her via email a few days before but she had overlooked it because it seemed too simple. I had her lay on her back. Hand on her belly and breathe. In slowly and softly through the nose and humming on the exhale (lips together, jaw relaxed, one long, low, slow hmm). The humming helps elongate the exhale and the vibration stimulates the vagus nerve. Both help you tap into the parasympathetic state. I set a timer for 5 minutes.
When she was done she was blown away. She said it was the first time since before getting sick that she felt like she was able to feel and relax her pelvic floor.
Sometimes we need a nervous system reset like that before we can even think about trying the strategies above. It's totally normal and you have the tools at your disposal wherever you are - your body and your breath. These are simple solutions but they are not overnight solutions. They require practice, starting small and intentionally building up on the skills over time. Give yourself time and space to practice.