Head, shoulders, knees and toes… If one of your goals is to increase your flexibility, touching your toes may be on your to-dos. But this stretch is more than just a cool party trick — it can tell you a lot about your current fitness.
"Stretching to touch your toes shows you if your hamstrings are tight and is an important marker to determine tight hips," Liz Faison, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Fyt, tells LIVESTRONG.com. If your hips remain tight, over time that can lead to knee pain, she says.
If you can't yet touch your toes when you bend over, that's completely normal. More sedentary lifestyles can contribute to tight hamstrings, Faison says, and American adults sit on their duffs for about 6.5 hours per day, according to an April 2019 JAMA study.
But you can reverse the tightness trend and limber up with targeted stretches to touch toes that, when performed over time, can help improve your flexibility. Balance is a big part of your toe-touching abilities, according to a December 2018 study in Human Movement Science, so it may also help to focus on additional exercises that improve your balance during this time.
Follow This 31-Day Plan to Touch Your Toes
Wondering how to touch your toes? Do these nine stretches to help you touch your toes daily. These moves target the muscles in your shoulders, back and hamstrings.
Measure the intensity of the stretch on a scale of 1 to 10, Faison says. At the beginning of a stretching practice, you want to hit a 5 or 6, but don't go past a 7. "If you begin to feel any pain in your joints, stop immediately and reevaluate your form," she says.
It may take as long as three months of doing these touching toes exercises daily to be able to bend over and reach your toes, Faison says. But everyone is different, and you're likely able to touch your toes in just 31 days — or at least get close enough to reach for them.
"There's no set schedule for how long the process [how to touch your toes] takes. What's most important is that you are safely stretching," she says.
Every day this month, go through these stretches in a circuit, holding each for 30 seconds. Repeat for 2 to 3 rounds.
Move 1: Cat-Cow
- Start on all fours with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
- Exhale and round your spine, dropping your head down to look at the floor. This is cat pose.
- Inhale and arch your back while bringing your head and chest up to look at the ceiling. This is cow pose.
- Repeat, gently and slowly alternating between cat and cow for 30 seconds.
The yoga stretch is a great stress-relieving way to start the "how to touch your toes" series. During this stretch, you’ll flex and extend your spine, which is going to stretch your back, as well as activate your hips.
Move 2: Figure 4 Stretch
- Lie down on your back and bring your legs into a tabletop position, with your shins parallel to the floor.
- Cross your right leg over your left so that your right ankle rests on your left knee.
- Reach between your legs to grab onto the back of your left thigh, just above the knee.
- Gently pull toward your chest.
- Hold for 30 seconds then release.
- Repeat on the other side.
Hip tightness can prevent you from hinging down to touch your toes. This stretch will help release that tightness.
Move 3: Kneeling Hamstring Stretch
- Kneel on the floor and straighten your right leg out in front of you, keeping your knee straight but soft.
- Drop your butt down to sit on your left heel.
- Keeping your back straight, bend forward.
- Hold for 30 seconds then release.
- Repeat on your left leg.
If you try to touch your toes, you’ll likely feel it in your hamstrings. This stretch will help loosen up some of that tightness.
Move 4: Sitting Toe Reach With Resistance Band
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Wrap a resistance band (you can also use a towel or yoga strap) around one foot and grasp both ends with one hand.
- Bend forward and reach your opposite hand toward your toes until you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings.
- Sit up and return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Think of this as the sitting-down version of the touching toes exercise, except this time you’ll have a little help with a resistance band, which provides tension for a nice hamstring stretch.
Only go as far as is comfortable but challenging. Be sure not to bend your knees when reaching to touch your toes.
Move 5: Lying Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground.
- Extend your right knee straight so that your right foot points to the ceiling.
- Reach your hands to grasp the back of your right thigh.
- Gently pull toward your chest. Your hips should remain on the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then release.
- Switch sides.
This is the third stretch in the series that really targets tight hamstrings. This muscle group should be feeling warm by now, making this touching toes exercise easier to get into.
Move 6: Pigeon Pose
- Start on your hands and knees. Bring your right knee forward to rest it on the floor, angling your right foot toward your left knee.
- Slide your left leg back and straighten your left knee so that your leg is flat on the floor.
- Sit up straight, inhaling and exhaling.
- Lower your torso down to the floor, so that your head rests on your hands.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and switch sides.
If you practice yoga, you recognize the pigeon pose — and probably love it or hate it. This stretch focuses on opening up your hips.
Move 7: Stair Calf Raise
- Stand on both feet at the edge of a stair with your heels off the step.
- Lift up onto your tiptoes and hold for a count.
- Slowly lower back down until your heels dip below the stair. You should feel a stretch but it should not hurt.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for 30 seconds.
Tight calves can keep you from bending all the way down in a toe touch. The stair calf raise takes the traditional calf raise and adds an even bigger stretch.
Move 8: Seated Straddle
- Sit upright on the floor with your feet out in a straddle position, toes pointed up.
- Slide your hands out directly in front of you, keeping your back and knees straight. Your palms should be flat on the floor.
- Stop when you feel tension. Hold for 30 seconds.
You’ll feel this stretch in your inner thighs. You may want to bend your knees or lift them off the ground, but keep the backs of your knees pressed down and only reach until you feel resistance.
Move 9: Windmill Toe Touch
- Stand upright with your feet wider than hip-width apart.
- Bend from your waist and rotate to touch your right hand to your left toe. Raise your left arm vertically and look toward that hand.
- In a swift but controlled movement, swing your arms to change sides. This time, your left hand should touch your right toe, with your right arm up. Keep your core engaged throughout.
- Continue alternating sides for 30 seconds.
As one of the best stretches to help you touch your toes, the windmill helps you reach for your toes with one hand at a time. Rotating your torso throughout this stretch targets multiple muscle groups.
How to Touch Your Toes
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart for balance. Maintain a slight bend in your knees.
- Keep your neck in a neutral position, flatten your back and reach for your toes.
- Press your big toe and heel on the floor for balance.
- Don’t drop your head. Look about 3 feet in front of your toes, as if you’re looking over the edge of a cliff.
- Stand back up to the starting position.
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