You can easily touch your head, your shoulders, and your knees — but what about your toes? The straight-legged toe touch can be deceptively difficult. A 2007 audit estimates that over half of the UK population can’t touch their toes. Stiffer than the Whomping Willow? Nobody expects you to Bend It Like Beckham straight off the bat. With consistent practice, simple stretches can make all the difference. Use the straight-legged toe touch as a launching pad for further adventures in the world of flexibility. 

Why You Can’t Touch Your Toes

Body Shape: The longer your legs and the shorter your torso, the further your upper body has to travel in order to reach the ground. It’s like travelling multiple houses down the street rather than walking over to your next door neighbor. When you’re tall, touching your toes requires more effort because you’re travelling a greater distance to reach your destination.

Tight Muscles: Your hip joint makes it possible for you to touch your toes while keeping your upper and lower body straight—similar to the way that a spiral notebook pad closes in on itself. If you forget to stretch after exercising, or if you’re sitting down all day, every day, your hip flexors tighten and shorten.

This tilts your pelvis forward, making it harder for you to bend at your hips because your hamstrings are working overtime to compensate. It's difficult to touch your toes when you have chronically short hip flexors, low hip joint mobility, and stressed-out hamstrings.

What to do about it

Gray Cook’s Toe Touch Progression

What You’ll Need

  • A flat board or flat surface to keep you slightly elevated (weighted plate, thick book, ex)
  • A dense, supple object (folded towel, stress ball), held between your thighs.

Raised Toes. Keep your heels on the ground and rest your toes on the elevated board. Place stress ball between your thighs. Raise your arms overhead, and bend at your hips to bring your body down towards the floor. Keep your upper and lower body as straight as possible.

If your arms fall short of the floor, squeeze the object between your thighs to activate your core muscles and release your back muscles— this should assist you. If you’re still short of the floor, make a slight bend in your knees until you can tap the floor. Reset to standing position, and attempt 10-15 times.

Raised Heels. Keep your toes on the ground and rest your heels on the elevated board. Place stress ball between your thighs. Raise your arms overhead, and bend at your hips to bring your body down towards the floor. Keep your upper and lower body as straight as possible.

If your arms fall short of the floor, squeeze the object between your thighs to activate your core. If you’re still short of the floor, make a slight bend in your knees until you can tap the floor. Reset to standing position, and attempt 10-15 times.

5 Yoga Stretches for Toe Touching

Standing Forward Bend - Fold at your hips and let your body hang forwards, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Take deep, calm breaths and let the rhythm of your breathing push you down slowly.

Seated Forward Bend - In an upright seated position with your legs extended forward, place your right heel on your left inner thigh . Exhale your arms straight up overhead, and bend at your hips to reach your arms towards your feet. Sit on a towel or blanket to assist you and keep your spine straight - not rounded. If you can, reach your forehead towards your feet and hold the pose for a few seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Child’s Pose - Kneel down and press your forehead on the floor, reaching your arms behind you on the floor with your palms facing up. This will realign your pelvis and it’ll relieve tightness in your lower back.

Modified Squat - Place your heels on a rolled up yoga mat and keep your stance slightly wider than your hips. Bend your knees and lower your glutes until they hover above the yoga mat, keeping your spine straight and making sure that your knees don't extend past your ankles. Hold your hands in a prayer position and use your elbows to push your thighs outward. This will relieve tension and increase mobility in your hip joints.

Beginner Sequence

If you're an absolute beginner to yoga, try this sequence instead. No downward dog required. It focuses on foundational poses that will build up your strength, mobility, and flexibility. You'll be able to touch your toes in no time!

About the Author

Alessandra Hechanova is a highly caffeinated long-distance runner with a penchant for puns. She is the Community Manager for PumpUp, an inspiring mobile health and fitness community. When she isn’t toying with typography or serving up a smoothie, she’s struggling to achieve the elusive pull-up.

Photos c/o PumpUp members @rinkae and @sweetsmiley721