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February 08, 2022 11 min read
Flexibility is the achievable range of unrestricted motion in your joints. And your flexibility depends on factors ranging from your age, lifestyle, muscle length, connective tissue tension, and even gender. While flexibility comes naturally to some people, many others achieve struggle with something as simple as touching their toes.
The standing and sitting toe touch are basic elementary school PE class tests of flexibility.
It is the barest minimum that measures the flexibility of your posterior. So why are you finding it difficult to touch your toes if it is so simple, and how do you redeem yourself? Below, we have provided you with reasons for this phenomenon and tips to help get you along.
It might seem unfair that the standing toe touch comes easily to many while you cannot reach far enough. To make matters worse, straining too far seems to wake a mildly throbbing pain that fires through your legs and back. No matter how hard you seem to try, folding your body seems impossible.
The toe touch is an essential measure of flexibility in your hips and leg muscles.
To make things worse, the touches are not only a measure of how limber you can be but can also be a measure of the state of your overall health.While your inability to touch your toes remains an outspoken cry about the lack of flexibility of your muscles, several factors contribute to this. So why can’t you touch your toes? Your inability to touch your toes can be a worrisome tell-tale sign of several factors. Some of these physical and physiological factors can be:
Globally, about 31% of people older than 15 engage in a sedentary lifestyle. This sedentary lifestyle is characterized by a lack of sufficient daily activities considered healthy for the human body. The lack of participation in physical activities is influenced by factors that could be emotional, environmental or even lack of facilities.The average American adult spends their waking moments sitting at a desk or reclining on a couch to settle with a favorite movie.
Sitting for too long without performing mobility exercises is damaging to the body. Because you spend more time sitting than you do moving around and are involved in activities designed to stretch the muscles, your hip flexors and back muscles are shortened and tightened. This severely limits your range of motion, restricting the distance you can fold your body forward. This is synonymous with your hips putting the brakes on themselves to reduce the risks of further damage to your body.
As you age your body loses flexibility. This is a result of your muscles losing elasticity. There is a loss of water in the tissues and the onset of stiffening in your joints. There is a decreased amount of lubricating fluid that helps with the smooth gliding on the bone over bone in your joints. Your ligaments grow shorter, and your cartilage begins to thin. All these are normal during old age and influence many activities, including your ability to fold over and touch your toes.
Women are anatomically more flexible than their male counterparts. This is due to their choice of lifestyle and physiological makeup. The body of the average woman produces hormones -typically the estrogen hormone- that help them to maintain limber and lean muscles. A man’s body often has ten times the average woman’s testosterone level, leading to the production of shorter, tighter, and bulkier muscles.
The tighter your muscles, the more difficult it is to stretch.
Women are also more inclined to favor activities designed to increase the range of motion in muscles like Pilates and Yoga. Men, on the other hand, often opt for activities designed to help them get bulkier muscles. This difference in taste goes a long way in determining how pliable the body is.
Contrary to popular opinion, your ability to bend over while standing or sitting to touch not only rests in your hip flexor muscles. You see, your body recruits all of the muscles in your entire posterior chain to help you fold over comfortably in your normal range of motion.
All these muscles are connected from the top of your neck to the soles of your feet, and a problem in one results in a general contribution to your inability to bend forward. This is why touching your toes is a sign of mobility in your spine, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and ankles.
Bending forward to touch your toes flexes your spine.
Connected to the spine are muscles known as the spinal muscles or extensors, also called the erector spinae and multifidus. These muscles can perform basic functional movements that include bending forward. Theses muscles are connected to the hip muscles, which work in conjunction with the gluteal muscles, and then the hamstrings.
Bending forward to touch your toes activates the hip flexors.
The hip flexors are located between the mid and lower back, and help keep the spine and pelvic area in the optimal position. A strong and healthy hip flexor will can both lift the legs and bend over fully with little or no discomfort in the hips and back. A weak and stiff hip flexor, on the other hand, results in decreased mobility and flexibility.
Stretching forward also activates your glutes.
The gluteus maximus, the most substantial glute muscle, extends to accommodate the angle of hip flexion that you need. Coupled with the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and piriformis muscles, the gluteus maximus adducts your body, allowing it to flex forward and back.
Your hamstrings not only need to be flexible, but also strong.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run across the back of the thigh and attach from the hip to below the knee. Think of the hamstrings as a bunch of elastic rubber bands. In their resting form, when you are erect, they are relaxed. While you are sitting, they get shortened and tightened.When you lean forward to touch your toes, they get stretched to their limit.
Stretching forward not only activates your hamstrings but other leg muscles like the gastrocnemius and soleus of the calves.
It also engages the adductor magnus and gracilis of the thigh muscles. Essentially stretching to touch your toes requires a system of muscles to work together, and each muscle should be in optimal health.
There are several reasons why you can’t touch your toes, but each reason boils down to the state of your body. All these reasons are linked to the flexibility of your muscles and the mobility in your joints.
Flexibility is great for the body. It ensures blood flow in your system and improves muscle elasticity, reducing the risks of injuries.Improving flexibility helps to reduce the stress on the spine, alleviating lower back pain and improving posture and mobility.
Ultimately, flexibility improves the overall quality of life.
With flexibility, you can cope with the changes in your ligaments, tendons, connective tissue, and muscles as you age. Muscle and joint pain is usually a result of fascia and muscle structure changes that lead to a shortening of your range of motion. With your hips and hamstrings being one of the significant points of stress and strain, the toe touch helps to reduce the risks of hip and leg strains or pain.
If you're not currently flexible, getting to the point of comfortably bending over to touch your toes may involve a series of stretches and exercises and might take weeks or months to achieve, depending on the state of your body.
But there's great news!
Just like with lifting weights, your body adapts quickly as long as you're consistent.During your quest, you might feel some discomfort. This is simply your body attempting to expand beyond its comfort zone. Discomfort is good, pain is bad. So take it slow and listen to your body and you'll be comfortably touching your toes before you know it!
Here are a few exercises and stretches that can help you get closer to touching your toes:
The Cat/Cow pose is a popular choice for back pain. A common pose in many yoga classes, it helps to stretch and flex the spine and the surrounding lumbar extensions. This would help relax overly tight back muscles and increase the range of motion. The flexing of your spine in this pose also helps to improve circulation in your spinal discs while simultaneously relieving the pressure on your site and lower back muscles.Overall, the Cat/Cow pose helps eliminate the adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle on your back and promotes a healthy spine. This is an excellent bet for increasing your range of motion to touch your toes.
To do the Cat/Cow stretch:
The kneeling hamstring stretch is great for stretching out your hamstring muscles. This reduces the effect of fascia and lengthens the shortened muscles of the legs. This increase in length is a great way to increase your chances of touching your hamstrings.
To do the kneeling hamstring stretch:
Pay attention to your hamstrings. If you begin to feel a sharp pain, angle your leading leg to accommodate your pain. If the pressure in your thigh and on your back gets unbearable, abort the stretch.
The high plank improves core strength and strengthens the network of muscles that span across your shoulders and back. This helps to improve body coordination, stability, and mobility. The high plank also strengthens the glutes, stretches the hip flexors, and pulls the hamstring, which is essential in helping you fold over to touch your toes. The high plank makes your muscles pliable, increasing your flexibility as you get better.
To do the high plank:
The high plank is scalable, meaning you can work your way up from 10 seconds while measuring your progress with the addition of 5 seconds.
The figure 4 stretch targets the muscles of your glutes, thighs, and hip flexors. It specifically activates the gluteus medius, the most important yet bypassed glute muscle.
To do this stretch:
The figure 4 stretch is equally scalable, as you can increase the seconds you hold the stretch for. To increase the intensity of this stretch, point your left foot downwards.
The lunge with a twist is perfect for stretching out stiff back and hamstring muscles.
There are a lot of stretches that help to loosen up your posterior muscles. Other than the need to touch your toes, stretching regularly is a great way to keep your body in check. It promotes flexibility, agility, and mobility needed to maneuver through functional activities.
Your nutrition is also essential to your muscles. Most important is protein, a macronutrient necessary for building and repairing muscles and connective tissues. Protein is vital for flexibility as it increases the collagen content in the muscles.
Touching your toes has numerous benefits on your back, hams, and calves. Not only do you get better at sports performance and functional activities, but you also do so with a lower risk of muscle injuries. However, this does not come with just a day or two of stretches.
Your muscles are like rubber. The movement you leave them stretched for too long, they return to their stiff state. To stretch to touch your toes, you need to engage in a comprehensive stretching routine frequently. The more you practice, the faster you can handle your toes.
Don't know where to start? Check out these stretches to release tight hip flexors.