“I can’t touch my toes, my hamstrings are too tight.”
“I stretch my hamstrings all the time, yet I still can’t touch my toes.”
These are a handful of direct quotes from clients over the years. Most people immediately associate this problem with hamstring flexibility when the true culprit is a movement dysfunction. According to the Selective Functional Movement Assessment, the toe touch exercise is a multi-segmental flexion pattern which includes the ability to touch the toes without bending at the knees and demonstrate a “clean” movement through the hips and spine (Cook, 2010).
Basically, it looks like this:
So, your probably thinking, big deal! Why does this matter?
The reason many people cannot touch their toes has nothing to do with the flexibility of their hamstring and everything to do with the sequence of their movement towards the ground (Cook, 2010). Another common reason is an insufficient posterior weight shift (Cook, 2010). If you are unable to shift your posterior weight backwards as the upper body leans down and forward, your hamstring will contract to prevent you from losing balance and falling forward (Cook, 2010). Basically, your hamstrings are acting like parking brakes preventing you from hurting yourself.
We see issues with toe touch patterns in many populations, from sedentary people to highly trained athletes. It indicates that they are more dependent on their legs for stabilization than their core (Cook, 2010). This is something we don’t want.
Here is a step by step corrective exercise strategy we use at Movement Performance Centre to teach the toe touch progression:
- Stand on a board so toes are up and heels are down. Doing so forces you into a posterior weight shift. When we weight shift, we become less dependant on our legs and more dependant on our core.
- Squeeze a towel or foam roller between your knees. Keep your feet together, but move your knees apart. Reach for the ground, as far as you can. When you start to feel tension, squeeze the towel or roller as hard as you can.
- Bend your knees so you can touch the floor each time.
- Repeat this movement, but this time stand on the board so toes are down and heels are up.
The toe touch progression works because we challenge a movement pattern. We take away stiffness through repetition which allows us to create a new movement pattern. So next time your thinking about how inflexible your hamstrings are, instead of stretching try this toe touch progression strategy!
Author: Megan Cook
Cook, G. (2010). Movement – Functional Movement Systems. Aptos, CA: On Target Publications.