Self-Assessments for Athletes: Toes and Feet

This series will present some ways that athletes who are training on their own can identify the qualities of movement and athletic performance that need the most work; and will provide some strategies to go about improving them. First one up: assessing the toes and feet.

Alexander Nurse Bey
May 23, 2021

This series will present some ways that athletes who are training on their own can identify areas that need improvement.

Joints, Tissue, and Movement

With each post in this series, we will explore one or two assessments that you can use to guide your programming in the weight-room.

Let’s begin with assessing how well you move. This is the foundation of any assessment protocol a coach would run you through to ensure two things. The first is that you will not become injured while training. The second is that your likelihood of being injured during sport practice and competition is reduced as much as possible. We will start from the ground-up, telling you what the assessment is looking for and the implications of each.

1. Toes: Can you stand on your tiptoes and remain balanced?

Tip-Toe Test:

This assessment looks at a couple of things. The most important being how mobile your big toe is. To pass this test you should find stability in this position for at least one deep inhale/exhale; and your big toe should be able to bend very easily, allowing you to get high up on the balls of the feet: ballerina style. A big toe that does not bend is a red flag for an athlete because it can impede your ability to propel yourself forward and upward (accelerating and jumping). It can also lead to rolling off the inside of the foot during gait and result in bunyons. Not fun.

The test is also indicative of what your arches and ankles are like. You enter this tippy-toe position every time you perform a vertical jump. If you can remain stable during this brief test there is a good chance that during jumping you are able to access all the little muscles in the foot to help compete for that rebound or spike that ball. The ankles themselves should also invert a little bit (move toward one another), as this is what provides for a rigid, stable foot during locomotion.


A. Big Toe Doesn’t Bend: Rolling the bottom-inside portion of the foot followed by stretching the big toe against a rack, door, or elevated surface as shown is a good start to improving big toe mobility.

Rolling the foot:

Stretching the Big Toe:

B. Tennis Ball Squeeze: A few sets of performing a calf-raise while squeezing the hell out of a tennis ball (or some other small ball with an appropriate level of give) can help over time.

Ankle Tennis Ball Squeeze:

2. Arches: Are they High/Rounded or Low/Flat?

See how both bottom edges (arches) are relatively raised?
See how the foot on the right looks flatter than the one on the left?

Take off your shoes and socks. Now stand in front of a low mirror and take a close look at the inside edge at the bottom of each foot. Do you notice a difference between them and if so, how would you describe it? Does one foot appear “flatter” than the other? Does one appear to be “raised” off of the ground more than the other (see foot on the left)? Do they both appear to be the same?

This test determines the potential function, or lack thereof, of the muscles located in the bottom of the foot. We want the feet to exhibit a small “arch” or “raise” off of the floor. This tells us that our feet stand at a nice neutral point: mobile enough to load forces when they hit the ground, but stable enough to use those forces to propel us forward immediately thereafter.


A. Janda Short Foot: If the feet are very flat-looking, use this exercise to wake-up those muscles at the bottom of the foot and strengthen your arches.

B. Assisted Ankle Mob: If the feet look to have very high arches (they are too "contracted"), perform the assisted mobility drill below to teach them to relax and to rotate inward toward the big toe.

Join me for Part 2 of this post where we will look at a self-assessment for the ankles. As always, reach out with any questions using the website chatbox or via email.

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