How important is it that a person be able to touch their toes?

  • For as long as I can remember, I've heard the question "can you touch your toes?" asked by people trying to ascertain another person's physical fitness. I've grown up thinking that being able to touch your toes was a basic ability that every healthy person should have, and that not being able to do it meant that you were in bad shape.

    However, I have actually never been able to touch my toes. If I keep my knees locked and bend over I actually can't get the tips of my fingers much closer than 8 inches to my toes. I've been stretching for over a month now in an attempt to remedy this, but aside from a somewhat unpleasant feeling in my lower back and thighs, my efforts haven't seen much results as of yet. And now I'm starting to ask myself, "why is this even important?".

    Is it possible that what I thought was common knowledge and/or common sense is completely wrong? Are there people that just can't touch their toes, period, end of story? In short - is it important that I become flexible enough to touch my toes, and if so, why? If this actually is important to my athletic ability and/or physical health, I'll keep at it. But maybe it isn't?

    Edit 2011-05-31:

    I really appreciate the answers so far, they have been quite informative. However, I'm having a hard time marking any one of them as the official "accepted" answer, because I don't see a direct, definitive answer among them. Ivo Flipse's comment seems to me to be the most direct answer, but I'd really appreciate if someone could provide an answer (preferably linked to a authoritative source) that specifically mentions:

    1. If the majority of healthy, active people can touch their toes
    2. How to tell if you have the potential to be able to do this.
    3. What sort of activities/situations are helped by having this flexibility, or hindered by not having it? If flexibility prevents injuries, what sort of injuries are likely if one doesn't have this flexibility?

    Thanks again for everyone's help. If I don't get a better answer in the next few days, I'll accept YYY's answer.

    I'd say not at all, your body adapts to whatever you do to it. If you don't do anything that requires the flexibility or range of motion, you don't need it. Though some obvious outliers would be excluded from this.

    Remember that you can bend different parts of your body as you reach for your toes - hips, lower back, upper back, shoulders. I think hip bends are the healthiest, which requires long hamstrings. So just "can you touch your toes" leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

    depends on how itchy their toes are, i guess.

    @JoshuaCarmody You might want to specify how far apart your feet are; the further apart, the easier this is.

    Also, I guess less important than being able to SEE your toes.

  • tmesser

    tmesser Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Your flexibility is inversely related to how injury-prone you are. The more flexible you are, the less likely you are to accidentally injure yourself during training. This is true of major injuries, but it is also true of minor injuries that leave you stiff and sore for 3-4 days (when you should be bouncing back after 1 day of rest, ideally).

    Flexibility also means that you're less likely to hurt yourself in a fall or other accident as you age. In terms of intensity of workout to health benefit, flexibility training will give you the biggest payout of almost any exercise out there.

    All that said, I'm not sure why you're having so much trouble limbering up. My suspicion is that you are not performing the stretches properly, or the stretches you are doing aren't addressing your real issue. A personal trainer would be able to tell you more simply because they can physically look at you and see how your body is working.

    Accepted for now. But if anyone finds this question later and addresses the points in my edit above, I'd still appreciate it! Thanks.

    @JoshuaCarmody - Your wish is our command. :D

    "Your flexibility is inversely related to how injury-prone you are" - any sources to support this?

    Is there evidence for this claim, or is it a case of “just being what everyone believes”?

    Where is the evidence to support this claim that flexibility is inversely proportional to injury? Or that you should ideally be able to bounce back from all injuries? Not all people have the same flexibility and that doesn't limit their ability to do sports or live a healthy life. I suspect the notion that you need to be able to touch your toes is based on file lore, not science.

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