If you struggle every time you’re asked to do a forward fold, or you’ve never been able to touch your toes during a warm-up, here’s your chance to increase your flexibility once and for all.
Almost every yoga class involves a forward fold. If you’ve got tight hamstrings or have never been able to touch the floor, that simple rebounding move may be one you dread. While it’s commonly considered to be the ultimate test of flexibility, you’re not alone if you can’t get your hands below your shins; a study by LA Fitness revealed that over half of Brits struggle to touch their toes.
Sure, it may not be a game-changing problem in our day-to-day life – after all, we could just bend our knees to pick something up off the floor, but if we want to take our yoga practice up to the next level, then not having that mobility is a problem.
As one of the most common yoga moves, forward folds are an essential part of sun salutations, and they act as a foundation move for other poses such as downward facing dog. If you’re a little on the tight side when it comes to bending down, you’ll most likely find classes challenging.
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Whether you’re a budding yogi or not, being able to touch our toes can unlock a whole host of benefits beyond the mat. “Everyone is tight, stiff, immobile in different areas of the body for many different reasons,” explains Katie Anderson, head of training at FLY LDN. “Ultimately it means you are not flexible, but working on your flexibility is just as important as strength training to help us stay injury-free.”
When you go to touch your toes, you’ll feel lots of different muscles lengthening including the hamstrings, spinal extensors, the piriformis (a muscle in the deep groin) and calves. “If any of these areas are tight, you’re going to struggle,” Anderson says.
“Touching your toes shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all, but to be able to reach for them without feeling pain or shortness of breath is a great goal to have as it will help improve our posture, relieve lower back pain, allows a better range of motion and can reduce hamstring strains and Achilles tendon injuries.”
It wasn’t always this way; as children, touching our toes was easy. So, why has it become such a hard task? Personal trainer and author Carly Rowena believes the problem is multifaceted: “We could blame our lack of flexibility on our sedentary desk job, age or genetics (which are all contributing factors), but mainly it’s because, by nature, we are quad-dominant creatures,” she explains.
“As a society, everything we do is mostly forward motion and forward-facing, and we don’t tend to train the back sufficiently. But it also is down to poor posture when sitting, standing or sleeping, genetics, day-to-day physical activity and where you position your centre of gravity.”
Luckily, there are things we can do to dramatically improve our range of motion. “Adding designated strength training moves into your workout can certainly help with the flexibility of those muscles we engage when we touch our toes,” Rowena says. “Deadlifts, kettlebell swings, planks, Superman moves, back extension exercises and sumo deadlift high pull are all great to strengthen the hamstrings and back to give us a better range of motion.”
5 stretches to help you finally touch your toes
These are Carly Rowena’s must-try moves for building flexibility
Stretches: the muscles of the lower back, as well as the inner thighs and hip flexor muscles.
- Kneel on the floor with your toes together behind you and your knees hip-width apart
- Lower your torso onto your knees, extending your arms in front of you with your palms facing down
- Rest in the pose for as long as you need
Stretches: the spine, shoulders, hamstrings and calves
- Lie on your back with your legs outstretched
- Press into your palms and forearms into the ground for leverage and lift your legs up to 90 degrees and pause
- Then lift your bum up off the ground and use your core to bring your feet up and over your head until your toes touch the floor behind your head, keeping your legs straight
- Bring your palms together and interlace your fingers, keeping your arms straight and shoulders underneath
- Stay here for five breaths before returning your arms to your side and carefully rolling your spine one vertebra at a time down to your mat and lower your legs
Seated forward fold
Stretches: your hip muscles, hamstrings and lower back
- Begin in a seated position with your legs straight in front of your body
- Bring your arms straight up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling
- As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at your hips without rounding your back
- On each exhale, deepen into your forward bend keeping your spine long and straight
- You can also use a strap around your feet to help you to hinge further
Stretches: your hip flexors, abdominal muscles, upper back muscles, spinal erectors, and lower back muscles
- Begin on your hands and knees with a neutral spine
- Tilt your pelvis back so that your tailbone sticks up
- Drop your stomach down but keep your abdominal muscles pulling into your spine
- Take your gaze gently up toward the ceiling and hold for two breaths
- Tip your pelvis forward, tucking your tailbone and arch your spine
- Drop your chin to your chest and hold for two breaths before repeating
Stretches: the spine, shoulders, upper back, arms and abdominal muscles
- Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips
- As you exhale, move your bum halfway back toward your heels, keeping your arms outstretched
- Drop your forehead to the ground and let your neck relax
- Lengthen the spine and hold for 30 seconds before moving your bum onto your heels for as long as you feel comfortable
Increase your flexibility with one of our 15-minute mobility classes.
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