To be able to touch our toes (with your knees straight) you need to look at a few body areas – not just the hamstrings.
The main ones are:
- Low back: Your Erector Spinae muscles run up the side of your spine from your pelvis to your neck and need to be flexible to bend down and touch your toes. The other muscle here that helps to loosen up is your quadratus lumborum (QL).
- Hips (Namely your Gluts) – Your Gluts connect the chain between your hamstrings and erector spinae and need to be flexible to touch your toes and to be functional.
- Hamstrings: Your hammies are important because they cross over both your knee joints and hip joint at the back to can limit your knees staying straight and your hips flexing forward.
- Calves: The largest calf muscle, your gastroc (the larger of your calf muscles) crosses both the ankle and the knee joints so again is very important that this is flexible. Your calves are always working hard, so need regular attention to prevent tightness.
- Plantar Fascia: Your plantar fascia travels from your heel to your toes and is also linked/connected to your calves. This is strong connective tissue and doesn’t so much need to be stretched as it does relaxed and released – But it does make a huge difference, you will see!
The reason you can’t get to your toes by just stretching your hamstrings: Your muscles is all connected together, it isn’t a lot of separate pieces working by themselves. I’m sure a lot of you would have heard of the kinetic chain before, well it’s a real thing. The body is connected together in a lot of places by your fascia. The fascia (derived from the latin word for band or bandage) is like a soft tissue skeleton which muscles attach to and which connects up your muscles (pretty cool huh!). Here is a good explanation for an example of the fascia of your back.
It used to be thought of as leftover, residule tissue that isn’t really important.. but that isn’t the case! This way of thinking has been changed recently and the fascia has been shown to be very important and not to be missed or ignored by any health professionals – Or by you out there reading this post!
Alright here we go!
Below are 5 exercises to improve your flexibility! Some of them have two options, so pick which one works best for you.
Hint: It is also helpful to re-test (see how close you can get to your toes) after each exercise so that you know which ones work best for you!
1. Low back myofascial release: It is tricky to get a good stretch through the low back as it is made up of a lot of little stabilising (short) muscles. The best way to loosen up your back is with a Massage Ball as shown below:
Step 1. Place a ball in your low back to the side of your spine (you may be able to feel tight muscle here).
Step 2. Then pull your knee up towards your chest so that it flattens the muscles into the ball and rock from side to side and up and down, really grinding the ball into the muscle. You can adjust the pressure you put into the ball with your knee.
Do this for 1-2 minutes each side.
2. Gluts: Get down and hold this stretch for at least 1 minute:
3. Hamstrings: For the hamstrings, you can use either a Foam Roller if you have one or a ball.
Option 1: Foam roller: As shown here place your free leg over the one on the roller, sit up as much as you can to put the hamstring on stretch and use your arms or free leg to move you. Spend 1-2 minutes on each leg.
Option 2: Hamstring myofascial release. Click over to one of my most popular posts for a demo and easy explanation of this exercise.
4. Calves: hanging your heel off a step is the best way to get a good stretch.
Hold it for 1-2 minutes
5. Plantar Fascia: Place the ball (a nice hard one, I prefer a lacrosse ball) under your arch, put some weight through it and roll it around the bottom. roll it through all the tissue in between your heel and ball of your feet.
Do this for 1-2 minutes.
Note: the last two exercises will also hugely help anyone with heel pain or plantar fasciitis!
Now do a final re-test of your toe touch to see how close (or far past) to your toes you can get! This is something you will need to stick at to get the improvement to last – You will really see good results if you do it every day for 6 weeks.
Let me know how you go learning how to become more flexible and please share and like!
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