If you have no injury but still cannot touch your toes, this usually indicates poor flexibility in your lower back, hamstrings or both. In order to learn how to touch your toes, you first need to understand certain ways to make your body more flexible. The best ways is to stretch your muscles regularly. There are exercises that help increase your flexibility, help you touch your toes and make you less susceptible to injuries. Keep reading to learn them all.
Why Can‘t You Touch Your Toes?
So many things other than an injury can make it difficult for you to touch your toes. Here are some of the main reasons to give you a better understanding:
Body shape: Your upper body has to travel more when your torso is short and your legs are relatively longer. In other words, you are going to find it difficult to touch your toes if you are tall due to long legs.
Tight muscles: One obvious reason of why you cannot touch your toes is having tight muscles. If your hip joint is not flexible enough, you will never be able to touch your toes because it tries to keep your lower and upper body straight when you are bending down. Your hip flexors tighten up when you sit all day or do not stretch them often. Tighter hip flexors slightly tilt your pelvis forward and make it even more difficult to bend and touch your toes.
How to Touch Your Toes
Now that you understand why you cannot touch your toes, it will be easier to understand how to touch your toe with ease. Here are some simple steps to take.
1. Stretch Your Back
Your back muscles run from the top of your spine and go all the way down to your tailbone. Any stiffness in this muscle group will make it difficult for you to bend your torso and spine. You can try the Camel-Cat exercise to improve lower and upper back flexibility.
What to do: Start by getting down on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Push your back upward to make it round and then hold this for one count. Then, make an arch by pushing your lower back down toward the floor. That is one rep. Perform 10 before you try touching your toes.
2. Stretch Your Hips
You need to have flexible hip muscles when removing tension from your calves. The hip hinge exercise with elevated heels will help improve flexibility in the hamstrings and glutes to make it easier for you to touch your toes.
What to do: Get on a weight plate (25 pounds) with your heels firmly placed. Bend forward at your hips without losing the curve in your lower back. Slowly reach for your toes, pause, and return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps and try to touch your toes. If you fail, try the next exercise.
3. Stretch Your Calves
You will find it difficult to learn how to touch your toes if you do not know how to loosen your calves. You can try hip hinge with elevated toes to stretch your Achilles tendons or calf muscles.
What to do: You need to keep the balls of your feet on weight plate of about 25 pounds and bend forward at your hips. Reach for your toes and stop for a few seconds before returning to the starting position. Here is a picture of how to do standard hip hinge.
4. Stretch Your Hamstrings
When you try to bend and touch your toes, you will notice the stretch in your hamstrings. It means that if you do something to stretch your hamstrings, it will become easier for you to touch your toes.
What to do: Lie on the floor next to a doorframe or wall corner and place the heel of your foot up on the wall. Slowly straighten the knee and you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. This does not have to be painful though. Hold your position for 30 seconds and return to the starting point. Do the same with your other leg.
5. Stretch Your Soles
Most people have little knowledge about the fact that there are muscles on the bottom of their feet. Called toe flexors, they play a big role in determining how flexible your lower body is. Try this tennis-ball foot roll to become more flexible.
What to do: Stand in an upright position. Place your bare foot on a tennis ball and roll it lightly. Keep rolling the ball for at least a minute and then repeat with your other foot. Try to touch your toes once again.
If you still fail to touch your toes after some reps, you should keep doing these exercises for a few days to improve your overall flexibility and make it possible to touch your toes.
6. Soften Your Whole Body with Yoga
How to touch your toes? Make your whole body more flexible! The above targeted exercises will definitely help, but doing the following yoga poses at the same time will definitely produce better results.
- Functional squat: Stand in an upright position. Keep your knees and feet aligned under your hips with your arms reaching out. Slowly sit back into the pose without lifting your heels. Exhale as you do it. Hold the position for three long, deep breaths and then return to the starting position. Repeat thrice.
- Kneeling lunge: Get into a basic lunge position while keeping your back knee bent. Keep your hands on your front thigh and let your pelvis go down toward the floor. Exhale as you do it. Engage your buttocks while going down and keep them squared forward. Hold the pose for five long, deep breaths and return to the starting position. Do the same with your other side.
- Pyramid: Keep your right leg back 18-24 inches with your toes angled slightly out. Hinge form your hips while keeping your both legs as straight as possible. Slowly bend forward while keeping your hands on your forward leg. Continue to go low without rounding your back. Be sure to engage your quadriceps and stretch your hamstrings nicely. Hold the pose for five long, deep breaths on each side.
- Extended Child’s Pose: Get in a kneeling position and reach your arms forward. Exhale as you do so. Slowly press your buttocks back toward your heels and place your forehead on the ground. Hold this posse for five long, deep breaths.
- Standing Up Stretches for Hamstrings & Piriformis Muscles
- How to Improve Lower Back Flexibility
- Tensor Fascia Lata Muscle Stretches
- Dance Stretches for Straight Knees
- Recovery Time for a Torn Plantar Fascia
- Stretching Routine for a Beginning Gymnast
The hamstrings, on the back of the thighs, provide movement at both the hip and the knee. When they contract, they bend the knee as well as extend the hip. Throughout your daily activities, you rely on your hamstrings to walk and run. When these muscles become tight, you might experience a shortened walking stride, knee pain or lower back pain.
Toe Touch Stretches
Toe touch stretches, whether from a seated or standing position, are intended to stretch the hamstrings. In these stretches, you bend at the waist and try to touch your toes with your fingers. This action produces a stretching sensation in the back of the thighs and the lower back. Because the lower back is involved in the toe touch, it should not be performed. It carries a high potential for injury.
These common stretches, particularly the standing version, can lead to injury and should be avoided, according to exercise physiologist Young sub Kwon of the University of New Mexico. To touch your toes, you must bend your back. When your legs are straight, this action can strain the muscles and ligaments in your lower back, and over time can lead to spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one of your vertebrae slips out of place.
Alternative to Toe Touches
Performing hamstring stretches while lying on your back is a safe alternative. Lie on your back with both knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Straighten your right leg and grasp it with both hands, keeping both shoulders on the floor. If you have very tight hamstrings, you can grab your thigh. As you gain flexibility, move your hands up until you can grasp your toes. Keeping your right leg straight, pull your leg gently toward you until you feel a stretching sensation in the back of your thigh.
Benefits of Stretching
Stretching, when performed regularly, can increase the range of motion of a joint. By performing your hamstring stretch at least twice a week, you should have improved flexibility in approximately five weeks. With additional hamstring flexibility, you might see a reduction in knee or lower back pain. For athletes, this added hamstring flexibility can help you prevent injury and can increase your speed and jump height.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael A. Clark et al.
- The Concise Book of Muscles, Revised Edition; Chris Jarmey
- University of New Mexico: Contraindicated and High-Risk Exercises
Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
So when Corinne Croce and Dariusz Stankiewicz of Body Evolved Studio—a brand new upscale physical therapy destination opening this week in New York City—told me that they could get me to touch my toes in 2 sessions, I practically laughed in their faces. “I’ve been trying to do this for 2.5 decades—there is no way you can fix it in 2 hours,” I scoffed during my first appointment with Croce. Yet, she swore that my hands would be on the ground in no time.
“A person’s ability to reach up and down is much more than just a testament to their flexibility,” Croce explains. “Of course flexibility plays a role in how much movement can be created at each consecutive joint involved, however more often than not, the inability to touch ones toes is caused by a dysfunction with the fundamental pattern of hinging at the hips.”
Most of us refer to this as tightness, but it’s actually more complicated than that. “The ‘tone’ and tension being expressed in the hamstrings, calves, or lower back which feels like ‘tightness’ is actually a protective mechanism of the brain not trusting the movement itself due to the lack of instability sensed,” she says. In other words, not hinging enough at the hips can feel like intense tightness in the calves and hamstrings. “The brain sends a message to your muscles to lock down to hinder you from doing a movement that feels unstable.”
According to Croce, instead of working on flexibility to fix the problem, we were going to have to work on fixing the neurological tension and correcting the hip hinge pattern that was preventing me from making it all the way down to my toes.
My first appointment at the (gorgeous) studio in downtown Manhattan was with Croce, who focuses on manual therapy. She had me lie on a table, where she started performing the active release techniques, loosening some of the tension that was happening in my hip flexors. TBH, it was pretty intense (so much so that I actually felt nauseous afterward), but the next day I did feel a pretty big difference.
All of this was preparation for my second appointment with Stankiewicz, who coaches athletes, including many SoulCycle instructors, through functional strength training. Three days later, we put my newly adjusted hips to the test. He walked me through a series of drills called the “toe touch progression,” which was meant to break the “faulty patterning” in my movements and rebuild it from the ground up.
One of the moves involved holding a rolled up towel in between my thighs with my feet raised on top of another folded towel and very slowly folding down to the floor. I was meant to concentrate on pressing each segment of my spine, and squeezing the towel when things started to feel tight. Let me tell you: It was much harder than it sounds. Another had me doing a similar movement, but on the floor—a la a straight leg sit-up—instead of standing.
“The set of drills in this progression are meant to mess with the vestibular system to improve and synchronize your hip hinge pattern with your neuromuscular system, all the while challenging balance, proprioception and controlled breath work,” he explains. “When the goal of breaking the dysfunctional patterning and a proper hip hinge is achieved then the body will use the muscle length that was always present and allow for a full toe touch movement.”
At the end, I (nervously) hinged forward, and for the first time ever in my life, I grabbed hold of my toes. And then, I proceeded to do it approximately 100 more times over the course of the next 5 days for anyone who would watch.
In addition to hacking your hip mobility, these two yoga poses can also help you plant your hands and feet on the floor at the same time. And if increased flexibility is what you’re after, here are even more stretches that can help.
If you were never fond of taking Physical Education in high school, you probably have an equal amount of hatred for the ominous (and very mandatory) Fitness Test. Surprisingly, one of the biggest struggles most participants have with the test in high school is one of the more baseline levels of fitness: touching your toes.
Over 53 percent of people can’t actually touch their toes (if you’re a man, you’ll find it even more startling that over 77 percent of males can’t touch their toes). If you happen to be in that majority, it’s a bit demoralizing to attempt reaching loftier fitness goals.
Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take to help train your body (albeit over time) to increase flexibility and actually teach yourself to touch your toes.
If touching your toes is the goal, you need to understand that this is a process that will take time – certainly days, possibly weeks even.
The problem with flexibility training is that most people think it’s something that is simple, easy, and comes quickly. Forcing your body into a position it’s not warmed up or trained for can result in injury, which is why form and patience is crucial to achieving proper flexibility.
Every Day Counts
Increasing flexibility requires commitment – which means practicing every day.
Stand with your legs hip width apart, trying to avoid locking out your knees
Bend down, hands forward, leaning forward towards your quads, trying to keep yourself relaxed as you go down
Repeat this stretch two or three times, trying to keep your legs straight but without locking your quads
During each of these stretches, ensure you are breathing. It helps to exhale slowly as you go down.
Practice Makes Perfect
Try to find moments in your day to practice this – when you wake up in the morning, during breaks at work, before you workout, and after you workout.
The more repetition you can squeeze in, the better, and keep a careful eye on your progress. If you can get a friend or use your own camera to monitor the increases in flexibility, it will create a great starting point every day you stretch. Understanding your current limitations and how far you can push them is key to pushing your body a little bit more every day.
Eventually, if you really keep at it, you will shock yourself by being able to touch your toes. With enough repetition, you can put your hands on the ground and even (shocker) put your forehead on your knees. All it takes is patience, focus on form, and a lot of practice. You’ve totally got this!
“I can’t do yoga because I can’t even touch my toes”.
This is one of the most common reasons why people don’t practice yoga. BUT you don’t practice yoga because you can touch your toes. You practice yoga so you can touch your toes.
Toe touching is important because bending forward is a common movement in everyday life. If you can touch your toes without pain or injury on the yoga mat, it means that when you bend over to put on your shoes or pick up that £5 note you dropped on the floor, you won’t pull a muscle or do your back in.
Why can’t I touch my toes?
If you struggle to touch your toes it will be because of at least one of the following reasons:
- tight hamstrings
- tight lower back
- tight calves
- weak abdominals
- tight nerves (often due to stress or overtraining)
How do I touch my toes?
In the same way it takes time to build strength, you need to be patient when it comes to building flexibility. Use the Yoga Gym video tutorial below and follow these five tips:
1. When you’re in a forward bend make sure you keep your spine long to protect your lower back. It is better to take hold of your knees with a long spine than strain to reach for your toes with a rounded back. Start off by a) reaching for your shins, then b) take hold of your toes, and then as your body begins to open see if you can c) step on your palms.
a) b) c)
2. Engage your abdominals (imagine drawing your belly button to your spine) to help release any tightness in your lower back through a process known as a reciprocal inhibition. This works by the contraction of muscles one side of a joint causing the muscles on the other side of the joint to loosen and lengthen.
3. Pull up on your quadriceps to straighten your legs and lengthen your hamstrings through reciprocal inhibition.
4. Contract your biceps to pull yourself deeper into the pose.
5. Relax and take a break from strenuous exercise. If you get a shooting pain down the back of your neck and your spine every time you fold forwards or reach for your toes, it’s a neural response which is common when your body is stressed, tense or fatigues. Focus on breathing exercises and relaxations to take your body out of fight-or-flight mode and allow your nervous system to relax.
by Bryan Ausinheiler, physical therapist and personal trainer
Why the toe touch matters
Can you reach down and touch your toes with your knees straight? I consider a proper toe touch as a demonstration of basic competency in the multisegmental flexion pattern and aim to improve it with most of my clients (exceptions being flexion intolerance such as acute disc pathology). While it is true that genetic variations in connective tissue and limb proportions (short arms and long legs) make this movement more difficult for some than for others, lifestyle is often the bigger variable. Being unable to touch ones toes is likely to negatively affect other movement patterns such as picking things up from the ground, getting into an aerodynamic cycling position or a powerful rowing position.
What limits the toe touch?
The answer to the question: “Why can’t I touch my toes?” seems obvious; you aren’t flexible enough. But what exactly isn’t flexible enough? The typical response is that the limitation is the hamstrings, but this is an oversimplification, indeed any structure of combinations of structures in the posterior chain could be the culprit. A toe touch could be limited by the hamstrings, or by the sciatic nerve and spinal cord, the lumbar spine or simply a lack of coordination in the toe touch movement. There are scores of stretches aimed at improving the toe touch, but if you don’t know what the limiting factor is, you could spend your time doing the wrong ones. This may result in a lack of progress or just a waste of time
An algorithmic approach to touching your toes
I developed the algorithm below to help people self assess and then improve their toe touch. If you can already touch your toes, this algorithm will be too basic for you, I am working on an algorithm for more advanced flexibility and will post that when it is ready.
In order for the algorithm to work, you must be consistent in your measurement. Comparisons over time are only valid if measurements are taken at the same time of day. In some cases flexibility in the evening is double what it was in the morning simply due to the motion of the day and the loss of disc height. Small differences in the amount of knee bend will make a big difference in the range of motion. When you reach a test in the algorithm, read through the test description before testing. Write down your measurements as you go along. Repeat testing improves accuracy and a spreadsheet is a handy way to quickly calculate the averages.
- A ruler
- A wall
- Something to record your numbers
The Toe Touch
*Thanks to Steve Florence for the idea of using a ruler for self measurement
1. Hold a ruler lightly between the pads of your two middle fingers with the 0 mark facing down.
2. With the knees straight but not hyper-extended, shift the hips back and reach for your toes
3. Allow the ruler to touch the floor and slide your hands down the ruler as far as you can while keeping your knees straight. When you reach the end, pinch the ruler tighter and bring it back up, being careful to keep the fingertips in the same place on the ruler.
4. Record the mark where your fingertips reached in centimeters. This is your distance from the floor.
5. Repeat 5x total
The Heels Elevated Toe Touch
1. Same as toe touch but heels are elevated 5cm. Be sure to measure the surface you are using to elevate the heels. I picked 5cm because it is high enough to make a difference but not so high that it is hard to balance. You could use another height if you want.
The Long Sitting Wall Touch
1. Sit with the soles of your feet on the wall
2. Hold a ruler lightly between the pads of your two middle fingers with the 0 mark facing down.
3. With your knees straight but not hyperextended, reach for the wall.
4. Allow the ruler to touch the wall and slide your hands down the ruler as far as you can while keeping your knees straight. When you reach the end, pinch the ruler tightly and bring it back up, being careful to keep the fingertips in the same place on the ruler.
5. Record the mark where your fingertips reached in centimeters. This is your distance from the wall.
The Cross-Legged Wall Touch
1. Keep your buttocks in exactly the same place as you were for the long-sitting wall touch.
2. Cross you legs, they need not be completely crossed
3. Test using the ruler the same way as the long-sitting wall touch
The Slump Test (Distal Initiation)
1. With your hands behind your back, sit on the edge of a firm and level surface that allows your feet to dangle
2. Bend the ankle back as far as you can (dorsiflex)
3. Straighten the knee as far as you can without moving anywhere else.
4. Note the location and intensity of stretch sensation.
5. Bring the chin to the chest allowing the upper back to flex without moving the lower back, hips, knee or ankle.
6. Note any change in the intensity of the original stretch sensation.
7. Extend the neck and note any change in the original stretch sensation.
For Impairments in Stability & Motor Control
Thanks to Ross Dexter MHK, CSCS, SFG1 for showing me how hip flexor stretching can improve the toe touch.
Not many of us consider stretching as exercising, but it is. Sure, it doesn’t give you rock hard abs, lose weight or sweat, but it is part of staying healthy. As an athlete, it is important to stretch before and after workouts. It has been shown to decrease injuries and increased range of motion and flexibility, among other benefits. Throughout the day, whether you’re sitting at a desk all day or on the couch, your muscles begin to tighten. If you have a pet, you’ve seen them stretch periodically throughout the day, after they nap or after they’ve been sitting for a long time. This is a natural act for animals so why aren’t humans incorporating it into their routine too? What happens to your muscles when you stretch them? In short, your muscles lengthen a certain percentage.
The tissue surrounding your muscles shorten due to the lack of movement. This can be from sitting down too long at work, on the couch or just not stretching your muscles regularly. When you sit at work all day at a computer or desk, your muscles and tendons begin to tighten leading them to adapt to this new position. Past injuries can also lead to the lack of range of motion of a certain area of the body. Stretching is used as a way to improve the elasticity of a certain muscle or group of muscles. It increases muscle control, flexibility and range of motion. Try to touch your toes, if you’re having trouble there could be a few tight muscles in your body. Follow our guide below and see for yourself!
How to Touch Your Toes in 60 Minutes
- Try to touch your toes, this will be your starting point, our goal is to get you touching your toes.
- Foam roller
What to do:
- Roll from side to side on your mid back
- This affects your sympathetic system (runs parallel to the spine), as well as your thoracic spine muscle. This limits how far forward you can bend.
- Take your foam roller and gently move from side to side, knees bent, pivoting off your feet with your arms/hands at your sides. This is not about how far you are going, but trying to manipulate the muscles by your spine.
- It will help loosen up your mid-back. Generally, you will see about 1 to 2 inches of improvement. Everyone is different and may need more or less time than someone else.
- Get off the foam roller slowly, some people will be light-headed. Try to touch your toes again.
- Quadratus Lumborum (Mid-back)
- This area runs from the bottom of your ribs to the top of your pelvis.
Baseball or lacrosse ball
What to do:
- Working on your side, lay in beach pose position.
- One leg is bent while the other leg is straight.
- Rock from side to side. Try to find the most tender spot, that is usually where your body is most tight.
- Switch sides and repeat this.
- Some people may need a couple minutes and others do not need to work this is area all.
- Muscles can influence the range of motion, tight muscles around your low back, neck, and limb stops you from bending forward.
- Take a deep breath and try to touch your toes.
- Calves (Soleus and Gastrocnemius)
- Baseball or lacrosse ball
What to do:
- Lift your hips up and get enough pressure on the upper outside portion. This is the most common trigger point of the muscle.
- Relax your foot as much as possible.
- Loosen this area and switch to the other calf.
- Take a deep breath and bend forward to reach your toes.
- Plantar Fascia (bottom of feet).
- There are a lot of nerves, veins, and arteries in this area.
- Baseball or lacrosse ball
What to do:
- With that same baseball or lacrosse ball, put it under your foot and bend your foot inwards.
- Roll back and forth and feel for that tender spot.
- When you feel ready, switch to the other foot.
- Try to touch your toes again.
In general, we’ve been talking about muscles influencing your mobility, but there are others. Here are the factors that influence mobility.
- Active structures: muscle with proper extensibility is generally associated with an optimal usable range of motion.
- Passive structures: ligaments can limit the range of motion due to their role as joint stabilizers. On the other hand, ligaments that are too loose can be problematic causing joint instability.
- Neural structures: sometimes there will be a lack of usable range of motion despite adequate extensibility of the muscles and ligaments. In this case, the nervous system can send sensation limiting the range of motion.
- Other factors: elasticity of skin, adhesion between the muscle fibers and adhesions between the muscle and fascia, or even psychological factors.
Different structures can influence toe touch mobility. If you can touch your toes with ease could mean you have hypermobility of the spine. Think of mobility as an ‘n’ curve. The bottom of the ‘n’ means you either lack the mobility or you have hypermobility. The healthy area would be the curve of the ‘n’, you want to be somewhere in the middle. If you have too much mobility and not the strength to control it then you are increasing your risk of injury. Mobility is not the only factor to influence injury, but it is a known factor that can be worked on. Three take-home points: 1. If you can touch your toes it does not equate to how healthy you are or how healthy your back is. 2. You can be too mobile. 3. The changes between when you first tried to touch your toes to after doing all these stretches are short term.
If you’re having trouble with mobility, let us know. We can get you up and feeling good in no time!
PublishedВ 16:54 ,В 25 February 2021 GMT
| Last updatedВ 21:14 ,В 25 February 2021 GMT
Don’t think you can touch your toes? You’ve been doing it wrong. That’s according to the latest viral TikTok video, which sees a yoga enthusiast explaining the correct technique to successfully bend towards your toes without doing yourself any kind of back damage. Watch below:
I don’t know how you usually try it, but the perceived method of attempting to touch your toes is to simply bend over forwards with your legs straight and strain your arms downwards as far as possible.
However, as this TikTok creator shows us, this is incorrect.
“Did you know that everyone can touch their toes?” she asks in the video, before attempting the popular method and failing to touch her own toes.
She then tells us: “You’re doing it wrong.”
Switching to the correct method, the woman says: “Bend your knees, draw out your torso, release your neck and straighten out your legs.”
As she’s instructing us, she also puts her method into action and – guess what – she easily manages to reach far enough that she can touch the ends of her feet.
“Grab your toes if you like,” she finishes, touching her own.
Well, this is truly mind-blowing stuff, eliciting a range of reactions from TikTok users and more than 17,000 likes.
Many were seriously impressed by the instructions and had clearly given it a go themselves.
“I’m so annoyed that it was this easy. ” one user wrote.
Another added: “Yes it worked and I have never been able to touch my toes”.
However, not everyone was so successful, with one account writing: “I can’t straighten my legs once I’m down there.”
Another said: “I tried and and as I straightened my knees it still happens my whole body goes up.”
There were also those keen to brag about they’d already been able to touch their toes even without the aid of this handy tip.
One person wrote: “Not one to brag but I can put my hands completely flat on the floor with my knees straight without bending them first.”
Another show-off added: “I can do that and actually keep my legs straight.”
It’s just that easy. Credit: PA
Someone even offered another way of being able to do it, recommending: “If you spin three times you can do it too.” Ok.
If you do decide to attempt the tip, which improves your flexibility, then make sure you do it in a safe place – not like Mexican student Alexa Terrazas who, in 2019, attempted an extreme yoga pose on her sixth floor balcony and consequently lost balance before plummeting to the ground.
Terrazas needed her legs reconstructing and underwent 11 hours of surgery after the terrifying fall.
Featured Image Credit: TikTok/jennaelsieyoga