One of the coaching cues that I find myself constantly using in the gym is for athletes and clients to “dig their toes into the ground.” I tend to use a fair share of exercises in the quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling positions in my programming, and when people are in these positions, it’s imperative that they dig their toes into the floor. This rule applies whether someone is performing a Quadruped Extension-Rotation during the warm-up, or a Half-Kneeling Cable Lift towards the end of a training session.
Below is a series of pictures detailing what I mean. Notice the difference in my rear foot/feet in the INCORRECT and CORRECT photos (Chuck Taylors optional, but encouraged).
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m adamant on enforcing such a trivial detail. Well, here are 5 reasons why I feel it’s important to dig your toes into the ground.
You’ll notice a marked difference between having your toes dug into the ground versus not having them dug in when performing most kneeling exercises. Having your toes dug in to the floor gives you better stability and balance, and allows you to perform a given exercise more successfully. Digging your toes in essentially lets you feel more “connected” to the floor.
2. Glute Activation
When your toes are dug in and you’re more “connected” to the floor, you can effectively activate your glutes. This is supremely important during all half-kneeling and tall-kneeling exercises, as the hip should be fully extended, stable, and directly above the knee on the ground. Also, by engaging your glutes, the head of the femur is pulled posteriorly, preventing it from gliding forward in the socket and potentially contributing to anterior capsule laxity.
3. Great Toe Extension
If you’re familiar with the joint-by-joint approach, a model for which joints in the body require more mobility or stability, you’ll know that the great toe, and all of the toes, requires mobility. When we walk or run, we progress through the toes, especially the great toe. So, it’s important that we have adequate mobility, particularly in extension, through all of our toes. Digging your toes into the ground during quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling exercises promotes and helps maintain extension through the toes. Furthermore, and this is a nice segue to my next point, extension of the toes facilitates a stretch of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is directly connected to the Achilles tendon, and lengthening this fascia helps improve…
4. Ankle Dorsiflexion
We’re a very plantar-flexed society. Think about it: when you’re sleeping, sitting, or wearing shoes with big heel lifts, you’re most likely in a state of ankle plantar-flexion. Since many people sleep several hours per night, sit at a desk during work all day, and wear crappy shoes, there’s a lot of time being spent in plantar-flexion. Digging the toes into the ground during kneeling exercises promotes more ankle dorsiflexion, which is an essential movement capacity that, if limited, can lead to things like anterior knee pain.
5. Calf Muscle Inhibition
Piggy backing on #4, promoting and gaining more ankle dorsiflexion will help to inhibit the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus), which are often overactive in today’s population. An individual stuck in plantar-flexion is more likely to have increased tone and decreased soft tissue length in their calves. Take, for instance, someone who is in a gross extension pattern. Their pelvis is anteriorly tilted, adding to an increased lumbar lordosis, causing an anterior weight shift and altered center of gravity. Under these circumstances, the calf muscles would have to contract and constantly be “on” to prevent this individual from falling any further forward. By increasing dorsiflexion range of motion, the calves can be inhibited and effectively turned “off.”
Hopefully now you can see why it’s important to dig your toes into the ground during quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling exercises. I use the “dig your toes into the ground” cue all the time in the gym, and I feel with good reason. It may seem nitpicky, but the benefits of this simple adjustment can turn out to pay big dividends.