The abductor hallucis muscle keeps your big toe properly aligned and controls movement of the toe away from your body's midline. It also helps you maintain control when you move, because it supports the foot's medial longitudinal arch that's along the inside border of your foot. Exercises that target the abductor hallucis help preserve healthy foot function, contribute to proper posture and enhance stability when you walk, run and jump.
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Keep It Short
The short-foot exercise involves moving the foot into a shortened position by contracting the intrinsic foot muscles, including the abductor hallucis. A study appearing in the 2011 issue of "Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation" demonstrates the effectiveness of working the foot in this way. The authors of the study suggest that for overpronators -- people whose feet roll inward excessively -- a combination of foot orthoses and the short-foot exercise is better for boosting abductor hallucis strength than orthoses alone. To perform the short-foot exercise, shift your weight slightly over one foot. Without curling your toes under, slowly draw the ball of the working foot toward the heel. Hold the foot in its shortened position for up to 10 seconds, relax the foot briefly and repeat up to five times before switching feet.
A study appearing in the 2013 issue of "Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation" explores the effectiveness of a foot exercise that involves spreading the toes into a fan-like position. In that study, spreading the toes appeared more effective at activating the abductor hallucis muscle than the short-foot exercise. Sitting barefoot on a chair with your feet on the floor in front of you, spread the toes of your right foot as far as you can. Create as much air space as possible between every two toes. Hold the fanned position for five to eight seconds, relax the foot briefly and repeat 10 times before working your left foot.
Find a Guide
Nicole Nelson, a Florida-based massage therapist writing for "Massage Today," warns that you might have trouble activating the abductor hallucis when you first attempt to work it. She writes that this and other intrinsic foot muscles are "often out to lunch," making it hard to sense where they are and manipulate them. If you have difficulty performing the short-foot and toes-spread-out exercises, or if you suspect your form is off, consult with a professional who can model the exercises and help you activate the appropriate foot muscles.
Crank It Up
Once you've mastered the basic exercises, crank up the intensity. For the short-foot exercise, progress from a seated to a standing position, putting some weight on the working foot. When you're comfortable standing, do the short-foot exercise while performing single-leg squats, balancing on one leg or throwing and catching a ball. Boost the outcome of the toes-spread-out exercise by increasing the time interval and number of reps. Alternatively, loop a moderately-tight rubber band around your toes. Press against the band's resistance when you fan your toes outward.
Before you work out your feet and toes, remove your shoes and socks. Warm up and prepare your feet by prancing lightly around the room. After exercising the intrinsic muscles, stretch and soothe them by rolling the sole of each foot back and forth over a tennis ball or frozen water bottle.