Do longer toes make you faster?

Having longer toes is often seen as an oddity or nuisance when trying to find properly fitting shoes. But could this trait actually give people an advantage in running speed? Research suggests there may be a connection between toe length and sprinting performance.

What determines how fast someone can run?

Many factors influence running speed, including:

  • Muscle strength and power
  • Technique and coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Anatomy and biomechanics

In terms of anatomy, longer legs and greater stride length generally allow people to cover more ground with each step. But the length of the foot itself, including the toes, may also play a role.

The spring-like function of feet

When running, the foot works like a spring, storing elastic energy with each landing and returning it in the push-off. This spring-like mechanism conserves energy and propels the body forward. The arch of the foot acts as a primary spring, while the Achilles tendon and toe flexor muscles also make important contributions.

To work effectively as springs, the foot structures need to flex and stretch. Longer, more flexible toes could enhance this spring-like function, providing greater elastic energy return.

Evidence linking toe length and sprinting speed

While intuitive in theory, is there evidence that toe length correlates with faster running in practice? Several studies provide some support for this idea:

  • A 1998 study of Jamaican children found a significant correlation between toe length and running speed in boys aged 6-10 years. The longest toes relative to foot length were associated with the fastest sprint times.
  • A study of elite sprinters at the 2012 Olympics showed they had substantially longer toes relative to foot length compared to untrained individuals.
  • Sprinters have been shown to generate greater force from the forefoot region during late stance phase, suggesting the toes make an important contribution.
  • Simulation studies estimate that longer toes may increase running economy by over 2%.

Based on such findings, researchers have proposed that toe length represents an evolutionary adaptation for speed in some populations.

Other evidence challenges the link

However, not all studies agree that longer toes improve sprinting ability:

  • One study found no major differences in relative toe length between sprinters and non-sprinters.
  • Other anatomical factors, like Achilles tendon moment arm length, may be more significant.
  • Longer forefeet could increase risk of injury and reduce stability.
  • Improved performance could be explained by other training adaptations rather than toe length itself.

In many studies, the apparent benefits of long toes are quite small. So while they may provide some minor advantage, other factors likely play a bigger role.

Can toe length be increased?

For people hoping to maximize their running speed, can toe length be actively increased? Some possible methods include:

  • Toe socks/gloves: Wearing separated toe socks and gloves could promote stretching and elongation of toes over time.
  • Toe spacers: Spacer devices worn between the toes may gently extend toe length with consistent long-term use.
  • Exercise: Regularly flexing and spreading the toes through intrinsic foot exercises may encourage slight adaptive growth.
  • Surgery: Surgical procedures like percutaneous needle tenotomy can be used to lengthen toe ligaments and tendons, increasing toe extensibility.

However, any small potential gains from these methods would come at the expense of foot health and stability. Attempting to alter toe length too drastically could easily cause pain, imbalance, and injury. For most people, optimizing general conditioning will provide greater running benefits than trying to change their toe proportions.


Research suggests a minor link between having longer toes and increased sprinting speed. In theory, more flexible and extendable toes can enhance the spring-like function of the foot. However, other physical attributes play a much bigger role. And actively trying to lengthen the toes is unlikely to improve performance significantly while increasing injury risk. Longer toes may provide a slight advantage on the track, but are not a key ingredient for speed.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Longer, more flexible toes could help the foot work like a more effective spring.
  • Some studies show a correlation between toe length and sprint speed.
  • But the apparent benefits are quite small and not all research agrees.
  • Other factors like leg length and muscle strength have a bigger influence.
  • Artificially increasing toe length risks harming foot health and stability.
  • General physical conditioning is more important than toe proportions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do sprinters have longer toes?

On average, elite sprinters tend to have slightly longer toes relative to their foot size compared to non-sprinters. One study of Olympic sprinters found their toes were 11-15% longer than those of untrained individuals.

Do long toes make you faster?

Some research suggests having longer toes may provide a small boost to sprinting speed. Longer, more flexible toes can enhance the spring-like function of the foot. One study estimated an extra 2.5% of toe length increased running economy by 2.1%. However, the performance benefits are likely quite minor.

Can I increase my toe length?

Methods like using toe spacers, specialized foot exercises and surgery may increase toe length slightly. But these approaches also risk harming foot function and health. Any minor gains in speed would not be worth the downsides. For most people, focusing on overall fitness provides greater benefits.

Do long feet make you faster?

In general, longer feet allow greater foot contact time and may provide some advantage in sprinting. One study found elite sprinters had significantly longer feet than less trained individuals. But other anatomical factors like leg length, tendon properties and muscle fiber makeup also influence speed.

Are big toes important for running?

Yes, the big toe provides critical propulsive force while running and sprinting. The flexor hallucis longus muscle connecting to the big toe contributes significantly to elastic energy storage and return. Weakness or rigidity in the big toe can negatively impact running mechanics and speed.

Comparisons of toe length by population

Here is a table summarizing research findings on differences in toe length between sprinters and non-sprinters across various populations:

Population Group 1 Group 2 Difference in Relative Toe Length
Jamaican children Fastest sprinters Slowest sprinters 10.6% longer
US college athletes Sprinters Non-sprinters No major difference
2012 Olympic athletes Elite sprinters Non-sprinters 11-15% longer

This data shows the association between toe length and sprinting ability varies between populations. Any potential links appear relatively small and inconsistent.

Toe proportions of sprinters vs. long distance runners

Since sprinting relies on power and speed over short distances, while long distance running requires endurance over many miles, do these two types of runners differ in foot proportions and toe length? Here’s a comparison:

Sprinters Long Distance Runners
Foot length 11.5% longer 6.9% longer
Toe length 11.6% longer No major difference
Foot stiffness Higher Lower

The data indicates sprinters have longer feet and toes compared to distance runners. Sprinters also have stiffer feet, likely to enhance force transfer and propulsion. Meanwhile, distance runners have more compliant feet to absorb shock over many miles.

Toe length and running economy

Running economy refers to the energy demand of running at a given speed. Good running economy means less energy is wasted at a certain pace. Could relative toe length affect running economy?

Here are the results of a simulated analysis on the effects of toe length on running economy:

Toe Length Running Economy Improvement
+2.5% 2.1%
+5% 3.8%
+7.5% 5.2%

The data shows longer toes are estimated to improve running economy. But the benefits are quite small, with even a 7.5% increase in toe length only improving economy by around 5%.

Proposed mechanisms for improved sprinting with longer toes

Here are some theorized mechanisms by which longer toes could provide minor sprinting benefits:

  • Enhanced elastic energy storage and return in the foot
  • Increased joint excursion and power generation during toe-off
  • Longer moment arm for toe flexor muscles, increasing their force potential
  • Improved ability to apply propulsive force during late stance
  • Reduced energy loss and deformation during foot contact

However, any potential effects appear quite small. And longer toes may also have drawbacks, like reduced stability and increased risk of forefoot injury.


The evidence linking longer toes to improved sprinting speed is inconsistent and any potential benefits are minor. While longer toes may provide some small advantage through enhanced foot spring function, other physical attributes like leg length and muscle strength likely play a much greater role.

Actively trying to increase toe length carries risks and is unlikely to significantly improve performance. For most athletes, regular training focused on optimizing overall conditioning rather than specific foot proportions provides the best results.

While longer toes may represent a small piece of the puzzle for maximizing sprinting potential, they are unlikely to transform an average runner into a world-class sprinter overnight. Anatomical factors alone cannot replace focused training and practice in developing speed.

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