Touch Your Toes

 

Danielle Diamond, our BB expert on all things zen (and Xen) asks: Can’t touch your toes? No problem—with these three simple exercises, of course.

As a yoga teacher, I constantly hear people say they can’t do yoga because they’re inflexible. Inevitably their words are followed by a demonstration of them leaning over to prove they can’t touch their toes. I smile and explain to them all the wonderful benefits of stretching—joint lubrication, improved healing, better circulation, and enhanced mobility. The next week I spot them in my class.  : )  In flexibility training, there’s an actual range of motion measurement called the “toe-touch test”.(You might remember it from gym class.) It’s a great indication of one’s flexibility, not only in the hamstrings, but also the low back.

Flexibility, in physiological terms, is the movement of muscles and joints through their complete range of motion. We’re all born with this talent, but as we age that range shortens for most of us. In reality, it’s harder to stay flexible because so much of our day is spent sedentary at a desk or in a car, so our joints and muscles lose their flexibility. Most people blame the hamstrings when they can’t touch their toes, but it actually has more to do with a thin line of connective tissue called fascia that covers every bone, muscle and organ in your body.  Your movement is dependent on the fascia uniting different muscle groups and allowing them to function together; so if you want to ace the toe-touch test, you need to stretch your body down the entire line from your head to your feet.

 

Practice the following exercises—at least 3 times a week—and I promise you’ll get closer to your laces each time you tie your shoes.

 

Hold each one for at least 90 to 120 seconds to see progress each day.

Cat/Cow (opens up your erector spinae muscles in the back)

Start in a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Take a deep breath in, drop the belly and open the chest; then exhale and round the back upwards as the chin moves towards the chest. Do 10 rounds, breathing deeply.

 

Standing Forward Bend, (stretches your glutes and hamstrings)

Avoid overstretching by practicing with your heels raised on a folded mat or towel. Be sure to keep your back flat (NOT rounded) when folding forward, and bend your knees as much as you need to.

Start with a stool or stack of books in front of you, and activate the core by pulling the navel in and up. Hinge at the hips with a flat back, and reach the crown of the head forward as you lengthen the tailbone back, folding forward; place your hands on the stool, books, or the front of the shins.  Stay here, and take 10 deep breaths.

 

Seated Forward Bend
(activates the muscle chain that begins at the Achilles tendon and ends at the base of your head)

Sit with your legs out in front, feet flexed. If you feel any pain in your low back, place a folded blanket under your seat and hips. Pull your navel in and up to activate the core as you reach through the crown of the head. With a flat back, hinge forward at the hips and begin to walk the hands down toward the feet. Once you feel a stretch, stop. Take 10 breaths here, then move a bit deeper and take ten more.

 

Have a favorite tip you’ve used to increase your flexibility? Share it in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Touch Your Toes

  1. This article was all well and good, but it might have been nice to include pictures using somebody who is actually inflexible, so we can see what the pose is supposed to look like. I’ve never, even as a child, been able to touch my toes (at my MOST flexible in elementary school, I scored minus four inches on that sit-and-reach test.)

    I cannot even sit straight up in a seated forward bend without curving my back, so a sequence of pictures that STARTS with somebody sitting straight up, and ends with elbows on the floor and hands wrapped around the feet is useless. I KNOW that’s what the pose is eventually supposed to look like, but it doesn’t help anyone unable to touch their toes understand how to get there.

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  2. Sadly, for some persons the inability to touch their toes is hardly an “excuse.” I wish that more health and gym instructors would learn this. In fact, I wish my junior high school gym teacher had learned this, as it would have saved me some severe pain.

    I am 47 years old and touching my toes has always been difficult. I could never reach my toes without my knees bending and severe pain. Turns out I was born with my kneecaps off center and this trait, according to my doctor, is genetic. My mother also has suffered the same issues, including knees giving out in our youth.

    So, ever since I’ve come to view that severe pain as a warning sign. Some people physically cannot and should not try to touch their toes without medical supervision and physical therapy to help resolve the underlying physical and bone structure defects.

    Sometimes, for some people like myself, it is not about excuses and flexibility as many insist on believing, please understand this.

    Reply

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