In our last Lunchtime Pilates Class we were asked to reach forward and touch our toes during warm up. The class was a mix of complete beginners to intermediates and then those who have been touching their toes all their lives so, as you can imagine, there were various responses. It got me thinking about the health benefits of being just a little bit flexible and able to touch your toes. So many people can’t, but with a little bit of stretching they could benefit a lot!
Touching your toes is about flexibility in the back, hips and thighs, calves and feet so stretching these out goes a long way to helping you touch your toes and, if these four areas continue to stay flexible, the benefits as one gets older are great. Think of how breathing is affected if your back is hunched, or how your stride would be reduced if the calf muscles are short.
The most simple, but quite slow way to get closer to touching your toes is to just try it everyday. Perhaps each time you get out of and into bed reach down and touch your toes, hold it for ten seconds, breath and get a little closer. Repeat this twice everyday and it’s possible you’ll notice a small difference.
If you want to speed up the process and feel the other health benefits more quickly there are some other stretches I would recommend as well. Standing stretches for this are well documented and I have mentioned them below, but as we work with a lot of people who are unable to balance and stretch standing up I’ve decided to outline some seated stretches and adaptations. As always, only moving how you feel like moving. Don’t stretch to hurt yourself, you shouldn’t feel pain, just a gentle pulling. Also, if you already have a physiotherapist, it’s best to check with them before doing this. You wouldn’t want to mess up the things they’ve already helped you achieve!
The most obvious way to stretch your back out is to curl it, also known as the cat stretch. On a chair you should begin sitting upright, spine stacked and legs uncrossed out front and hip width apart. Place your palms on your knees and curve and lift the back to stretch.
The Hips and Thighs
There are many standing stretches for this including lunges, reaching forward and down, twists and lifts. The best stretch to do whilst seated to help you with toe touching is the thigh stretch. Walk yourself to the front third of your chair. Straighten one leg and place the heel on the floor. Keeping the back straight and putting both hands on the still bent leg lean forward slightly. Only go as far as you can without curving your back. Repeat on the other leg!
Very similar to the thigh stretch above, but with subtle differences to work a different muscle. You still move to the front third of the chair, put one leg forward and sit up straight, but this time your hands hold each side of the chair and your feet flex so your toe points to the ceiling. Repeat with the other leg!
There are more than 100 muscles in the feet and many of them, the ones in your soles, get involved when touching your toes. Grab a tennis ball and put it under one foot. Roll it around for up to a minute to warm up, loosen and stretch the muscles. It will feel like quite a a massage. Don’t forget the other foot. If you don’t have a tennis ball try lifting the heel, keeping the toes on the floor. Repeat, slowly padding through the feet.
Once you’ve done these stretches try touching your toes again, I’m sure you will be closer whether your trying to touch them whilst seated or standing. Don’t stop there though, repeat the stretches at least once a day and you’ll get there eventually.
At the end of the Pilates class I mentioned above, we did cool down and had to touch our toes again. Grunts of surprise came from everyone when they realised they were all that little bit closer! it just shows how much of a difference a few stretches can make!
Good luck and please let us know if you reach your toes!
This is meant to be more of a factual post, but if you want to come to Pilates and you live near Sun Pier House in Chatham, we do it every Tuesday, 12.15 – 1pm and it’s wonderfully relaxing! Click HERE for more information.