The best change you can make for your feet and for your toes is to spend time in a shoe with a zero drop and a wide toe box, so that your foot can spread, allowing it to work for itself, strengthening and activating the intrinsic muscles supporting your arch and toes.
School uniforms and work dress codes* make it hard to spend the day with bare feet or in minimalist shoes. So what we need is an anti-shoe workout. I call it, toga.
Now, I didn't invent toga. But I have put together a five-ten minute routine that doesn't require much equipment either. Just a foam roller, either short one or long, a golf ball, but you could use lacrosse or cricket ball too, a little space and some bare feet.
First thing, you want to roll out your calves with the foam roller, we explain how to roll calves here. Then, take the golf ball and massage out the bottom of your feet.
Along the bottom of your foot, there is a complex network of fascia, tendons, muscles, ligaments and nerves. The ball not only helps release any tension through the bottom of the foot but also helps stimulate those nerve endings (some 200,000 per foot), increasing the neural excitation, improving sensory activation and ultimately posture, balance, and gait.
Fascia: the internal skin
Fascia is pretty awesome underappreciated stuff. It encases the entire muscular system from our eyebrows to the tips of our toes - kind of like an internal wetsuit. So while people often talk in terms of specific muscles or body parts/segments, the truth is everything is literally connected and influenced not just by the next joint or muscle along the chain but by distant segments of the body that seem completely unrelated.
Test this out on yourself or an inflexible friend/family member by having them test their standing toe touch then have them roll their feet on a golf ball. Test again and notice how it almost always improves.
Now that we've done some self-massage and release work, it's time to stretch. First, knee to wall dorsiflexion (which you can learn about here). The next stretch is the exact opposite, a plantar flexion stretch, tops of your feet flat on the ground, rock back, and rest your butt towards or directly on your heels.
The last stretch is a big toe dorsiflexion stretch. It's a pretty intense stretch so go very easy. Position the roller under your knees, spread or fan your toes out, spike them into the ground, then gently shift your weight back through your hips resting it on your heels pressing your toes into the ground, The stretch will vary depending on where you are tight but can be felt anywhere along the bottom of the foot, in the calves or most likely in the first joint of the big toe.
This stage isn't very fancy or exciting but will do wonders for re-engaging the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle. Start with just a good old-fashioned toe wiggle, try spreading your toes apart, scrunch them up, flex them back, roll the ankle joints around, it doesn't matter too much what you do here just get them moving, get the joints moving and the muscles working.
* Vivobarefoot do have some dress and formal shoes in their range which might suit uniform requirements. If you live in the Melbourne area check out Sole Mechanics** in Hampton, they are great, tell them we sent you!
**Full disclosure: We don't have any paid affiliation or partnership and don't get paid anything for endorsing them, we just happen to like their shoes and service.