Spreading the Toes Imperative to Running

Spreading the toes reduce peak pressures and peak time integral to the foot and improves balance during forefoot running.

Constraints, such as a narrow running shoe, that reduce toe spreading shifts plantar pressure to areas of the foot that are not intended for weight-bearing when running barefoot.

Spreading the Toes Imperative to Running

  • Limited toe spreading alters key movements within the metatarsophalangeal joints, thereby compromising the lower extremity kinetic chain during running.
  • Chronic use of narrow footwear will eventually give rise to an abnormally narrow forefoot with minimal space between each toe, especially reduced space between the hallux (big toe) and the remaining toes.

Rather than wearing narrow running shoes, a minimalist shoe with a wide toe-box, or running barefoot, is necessary to allow spreading of the toes which in turn reduces forefoot loading during forefoot running.

Improve Toe Spread By Going Barefoot or Wearing Wide Minimalist Shoes

Habitually barefoot runners –who display greater toe spreading– fend off balance impairments under static and dynamic conditions as compared with habitually shod heel strike runners.

Unlike most shod heel strike runners, habitually barefoot runners have toes that are farther spaced apart, with a greater distance separation between the big and second toe.

Spreading Toes in Forefoot Running

Mei et al.,(2015) noticed that habitually barefoot forefoot runners had greater separation distance between the big toe and the other toes compared to that of shod heel strike runners.

  • A larger separation distance enables the big toe to freely assist in plantar loading distribution, directional stability and weight shifting during forefoot running (Chuo et al., 2009; Ku et al., 2012; Mills et al., 2008).
  • The big toe alleviates forefoot loading and peak pressures while the other toes aid in balance control during stance in habitually barefoot forefoot runners who run forefooted in shoes (Mei et al. 2008).  The result, a smaller pressure time integral on the foot.

Therefore, going barefoot or wearing wide barefoot-like footwear are ideal for forefoot running because the more the toes spread among each step, provides a large enough protection of impact and loading to obtain meaningful results in performance and foot health.

More From Run Forefoot:


Chou, S. W., Cheng, H. Y., Chen, J. H., Ju, Y. Y., Lin, Y. C., et al (2009). The role of the great toe in balance performance. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 27, 549–554.

Ku, P. X., Abu Osman, N. A., Yusof, A., & Wan Abas, W. A. (2012). The effect on human balance of standing with toe-extension. PLoS ONE, 7, e41539.

Mei et al. A comparative biomechanical analysis of habitually unshod and shod runners based on foot morphological differences. Hum Mov Sci, 2015; 42:38-53.

Mills, P. M., Barrett, R. S., & Morrison, S. (2008). Toe clearance variability during walking in young and elderly men. Gait & Posture, 28, 101–107.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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