Last updated on February 25th, 2023 at 05:35 pm
If there’s one thing I used to hate about lunges it’s that they really hurt my toes.
That is until I discovered what I was doing wrong and fixed it.
There are many reasons why lunges hurt your toes. Firstly, this may be due to a lack of flexibility in your toes. This is especially true if you are new to lunging. The type of shoes you’re wearing could have an impact, as could lunging barefoot. Both flat feet and plantar fasciitis are associated with pain in either the heel or arch of the foot. However, dorsiflexion (bending the toes towards the shin) will typically increase the level of pain. If the pain persists you should try lunge variations, such as reverse lunges or step ups.
You Lack Toe Flexibility
It sounds weird to even say it.
I mean, you don’t typically think about having to worry about mobility and flexibility in your toes.
However, when it comes to exercise it can certainly be a big deal.
So, the pain you’re feeling could simply be down to the fact that you’re not used to your toes bending in that way.
This is of course especially true if you’re new to doing lunges.
All exercises, regardless of how simple they appear, have a learning curve.
And more often than not you have to get used to some initial discomfort.
I’m sure many of us have had to get used to the pain of having a heavy barbell across our back when we squat.
Then again, it could be deadlifts tearing your hands to shreds.
And I’m sure there’s a lot of people who simply can’t balance on a Swiss ball.
The exact same can be said for lunges.
You’re just not used to having the toes of your back foot bend in that way.
So, the simple solution would be to work on your toe flexibility.
I would suggest that you perform specific warm-ups.
You can start by getting into a lunge position facing a wall.
Place your hands on the wall for support and simply hold yourself in position.
The fact that your stance is more stable (because you have your hands against a wall) takes a lot of the strain off the toes.
You can also perform planks, but continuously rock from your toes to the balls of your feet and back to your toes again.
What Are You Wearing on Your Feet?
Footwear, or lack of, could have an impact on your toes hurting when you do lunges.
I know some people will feel no discomfort whatsoever when they lunge barefoot.
Plus, the same can be said for squatting barefoot.
However, I know this definitely isn’t the case for me.
In fact, I tend to feel lunges far more in my toes if I’m not wearing training shoes.
Plus, I also feel it more in my left foot, which probably explains why I’m better at lunges on one side than the other.
The same could be said for the type of shoes you are wearing.
There are those who prefer a completely flat sole like a converse.
Then again, others would rather lunge and perform most exercises in running shoes that have a heel.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to whether you should wear shoes or not, and also the type of training shoes you perform lunges in.
So, it is a matter of personal preference and finding what works for you.
Use Padding Where Your Toes Are
Something else to consider is to provide extra padding where your back foot is.
In fact, this could make a world of difference.
As I’ve mentioned, toe flexibility and getting used to lunges may be the reason that your toes are hurting.
However, providing a cushioning effect could also help.
I don’t see anything wrong with placing a folded towel or a thick piece of foam on the floor to place your back foot on.
Okay, this may not deal with a lack of flexibility in the toes, whether you should be wearing shoes, or even which type of shoes, but it does provide a viable solution.
You’re not changing the exercise, and it’s not as though your range of motion will suffer a great deal either.
Plus, if you feel more comfortable having some padding on the floor you’re more likely to perform lunges with better form.
The result is that you get the greatest benefit from the exercise.
Try Lunge Variations
In truth, I’ve never been a fan of the forward lunge.
However, this is seen as the traditional way to perform lunges.
Personally, I think it causes more issues with control and balance with lunges, plus there is a higher likelihood of issues with jarring the front knee.
In fact, the only time I ever lunge forwards is when I do walking lunges.
But, the continuous motion places far less stress on the knees than shuddering to a halt.
My preferred variation will always be the reverse lunge.
You will actually place far less stress on the toes and the balls of the rear feet when performing reverse lunges.
The main reason for this is because you’re never actually placing all your weight onto the back foot.
Plus, I find that reverse lunges tend to work the quads and glutes far better than the traditional forward lunge.
I’m also a huge fan of step ups.
I would actually credit step ups with some of the greatest changes to my physique.
You hit the largest muscle in the body, the glutes, far more than any other lunge variation.
And working the largest muscle in the body can only have a positive impact on your body, regardless of your training goals.
If you want to stick to the traditional forward lunge you can also try varying your stepping distance.
This will generally change the angle of the lunge and may provide relief for the back foot.
Do You Have Flat Feet?
Many people have flat feet, but never experience any real problems with it.
Just in case you weren’t aware, flat feet is when your ankles roll inwards, especially when you walk.
This is referred to as overpronation.
Due to the position of both your feet and your ankles, over time this can cause issues with spinal alignment.
However, it can also cause pain in the arches or heels of the feet.
The pain can feel far worse through activity, so lunges can definitely cause an issue.
It’s more likely that the pain stems from the arch of your feet when you perform lunges, but this can easily be mistaken for your toes.
Plus, the fact that some of your weight is supported on your toes during lunges can exasperate the problem.
With that being said, your back toes are typically there just for balance.
Do You Have Plantar Fasciitis?
The final reason your toes hurt during lunges could be due to plantar fasciitis.
Furthermore, those of you with flat feet are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
This is a disorder of the connective tissues which provide support for the arches of the feet.
The tissues in question are known as the plantar fascia.
You are likely to feel pain when you take your first steps of the day, so literally when rising from bed.
However, the pain will typically subside somewhat as the day wears on.
That being said, the pain will feel worse through dorsiflexion of the foot, or raising the toes towards the shin.
This in effect is exactly what you’re doing with your back foot whenever you lunge.
Key Learning Points
- Warm up your toes and increase their flexibility prior to lunges.
- Your footwear, or lack of, could cause discomfort in your toes.
- Flat feet and plantar fasciitis typically cause issues with lunges.
- Use additional padding where you place your toes.
- Try lunge variations, e.g. reverse lunges seem to cause less issues for the toes than forward lunges.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.