How to Do Toe Taps

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman doing toe taps

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also known as: The toe taps exercise shares its name with the Pilates toe tap that targets the core, but it is not the same exercise. 

Equipment needed: Aerobic step, bench, plyometric box, or BOSU (both sides up) ball

Level: Beginner to intermediate

Targets: Lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and hip flexors. It also works the core muscles and cardiovascular system. 

Toe taps are useful as part of a warm-up, or you can include them as part of a strength or aerobic workout. Since you can vary the pace at which you tap, the move can range from low-impact to high intensity.  

When done correctly, toe taps target both muscular endurance and strength, as well as provide you with a fantastic cardio workout. Toe taps are typically added to a lower body workout, cardio routine, or performed between sets when doing a circuit-style workout. 

The movement pattern of the toe tap exercise can help prepare your body for more advanced exercises like jumping lunges and plyometric box jumps. Plus, if you’re a soccer player, toe taps can help you improve control and touch with the ball. The move is very similar to high knees, except you keep your knees a little lower so your thigh isn't quite parallel to the ground.

Benefits of Toe Taps

Toe taps target the muscles of your lower body—specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. By continuously tapping each foot for 30 to 60 seconds, you’re also targeting the cardiovascular system. This means performing toe taps increases your heart rate and helps you burn calories. Practicing toe taps can also help you get better at climbing stairs.

Additionally, toe taps can help strengthen your core, which may lead to reduced back pain, improved balance, and better flexion, extension, and rotation of your trunk. Stronger core muscles can also boost your fitness and athletic performance. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

As a bodyweight exercise, all you need to get started is a platform high enough to challenge you aerobically while you tap your toes. Before you begin, make sure the area around the platform and the space behind you are free of any debris that may cause you to trip. 

  1. Stand in front of a step, box, platform, or BOSU ball that is at least 10 to 12 inches tall. Arms remain at your sides. 
  2. Raise your right foot and place the ball of your foot on the platform. Depending on the equipment you use, your foot might be angled, rather than flat. But your left foot will remain flat on the ground. This is your starting position.
  3. Push off the ground with your left foot and switch legs mid-air, with your left foot now touching the platform and your right foot on the ground. 
  4. Arms can remain at your sides or alternate with your legs like you would do when running.
  5. Repeat alternating toe taps slowly until you feel comfortable with the movement pattern, and your technique is correct. 
  6. Speed up the pace and alternate between your left foot and right foot tapping the edge of the platform for the desired amount of time, typically 30 to 60 seconds. 

A note about your head: Since this exercise requires balance and stability, you may find that looking down at the platform while you alternate toe taps helps keep you stable. Once you are comfortable try keeping your head up and looking forward. 

Common Mistakes

The most common mistakes people make with toe taps typically involve the height of the step and posture or form.

Choosing a Platform That's Too High

When starting out, make sure the platform, step, or box you select is the appropriate height for your fitness level: The shorter the box, the easier the movement. If the edge where you tap is too high, you may lose your balance or rely too much on your hip flexors to do most of the work. 

Not Keeping Your Core Engaged

Any time you are upright and moving, you’re engaging the muscles in your core. The power, stability, and support generated from these muscles will help you move quicker and protect your lower back from injury. 

Leaning Forward From the Waist

Performing toe taps bent over at the waist can cause pain and discomfort in your lower back. As you get tired, your technique may begin to suffer, which often results in bending forward. To properly perform toe taps, you need to stand tall for the duration of the exercise. 

Modifications and Variations

A nice thing about toe taps is you can alter the exercise to your fitness level. Here's how to modify the exercise to be easier or harder depending on your needs.

Need a Modification?

Toe taps are very versatile. Here's how to make them easier if you are struggling.

  • Go lower: If tapping a bench, platform, or plyo-box is too difficult, consider using a lower step or eliminating the equipment altogether. You still benefit from tapping the ground, but it turns the move into a low-impact cardio exercise. 
  • Slow down: If moving quickly back and forth is too much, slow down the toe taps to a walking pace.

Up for a Challenge?

There are several ways to make this move more challenging.

  • Add resistance: Make the move more challenging by adding resistance. Hold a dumbbell in each hand or wear ankle weights to increase the weight of your legs. Additionally, consider increasing the height of the platform. A taller step or box will require you to bring your knees up higher. Not only does this add to the cardio component, but it also challenges your leg muscles. 
  • Speed it up: Focus on increasing the speed or pace of your taps each time you perform the exercise. Keep track of the number of toe taps you do in a 30-second period and see if you can beat your record.
  • Use a BOSU: If you have a BOSU ball, you can make toe taps more challenging by moving around the dome. Begin with the same movement pattern as basic toe taps, but rather than standing in one place, move around the dome while tapping and switching legs. Go clockwise for 15 seconds, then counterclockwise for 15 seconds. Increase the time as you get better.

Safety and Precautions

Generally speaking, toe taps are safe to perform. Since you can modify the pace at which you alternate your feet, this exercise is appropriate for most fitness levels. If you have any health conditions that limit your ability to perform a cardiovascular exercise or any issues with your knees, hips, feet, or ankles, talk with your doctor prior to starting toe taps. 

If you experience any discomfort while doing toe taps, stop and take a break. When you resume the movement, try tapping on the ground before moving back to the bench, box, or BOSU ball. 

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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