What It Really Means When You Can't Touch Your Toes

If you've ever stood up from your desk and taken a big stretch, raised your arms up, then sunk into a forward fold, bending so that your hands were reaching for your toes, only to find that you're nowhere near reaching them, you're not alone. Touching your toes — from a standing or seated position — especially done with proper form, is something that more people struggle with than you might expect. But does it mean that you're too inflexible? Maybe not.

Sitting at a desk for most of the day, then shifting to sitting at the kitchen table or the couch when we are done with work, can wreak havoc on your body's flexibility in general, shortening and tightening your hamstrings and hip flexors. Even your back — your lats and your core — might be to blame for your lack of downward mobility. Luckily, if you're willing to spend some time reversing the damage done from a sedentary seated job, you'll be touching your toes eventually (via Men's Journal).

It's also important to note that touching your toes may be impossible because of your body shape. Even if you have amazing flexibility, people with naturally curvier body types may not be able to fold over at the hips enough to get to their toes, and that's okay. The same applies to some people who just happen to have shorter arms and longer legs — you can't change your skeletal structure. But you can still have fantastic flexibility without being able to do this specific movement (via Yoga London).

How can you gain flexibility to touch your toes?

This shouldn't be a one-time stretch session with the goal of pulling your muscles like taffy. Rather, think of improving your hamstring and hip flexibility as a long-term goal, with the ability to touch your toes standing as the benchmark for success. You don't want to do it once and not try again for a year: This should become a regular check in if you want a healthier body. Samuel Chan, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City, recommends getting up and walking more throughout your day to help open hips, and focusing on stability exercises like Romanian deadlifts to improve hamstring strength and mobility. Chan also recommends stretching your hamstring by lying on the ground, and with one leg at a time, lifting the leg and grasping your thigh in your hands, keeping your leg straight as you raise it up and bring it towards your torso. You likely won't get too far — just go until you feel a stretch on the back of your thigh.

Often, a few minutes of foam rolling on the glutes and the back of your thighs is enough to give you a bit more mobility in your hamstrings, allowing you to get down to your toes if you're only an inch or two away (via Breaking Muscle).