Can You Touch Your Toes?

I often hear people speak about flexibility.  Frequently people believe flexibility is about being able to touch your toes.  People state they need to stretch more.  They probably should. But, they are stating this with the idea that if they stretch more they will be more flexible. This is only partly true.  

Flexibility primarily has gender and genetic set points.  Females in general will be more flexible than males. The female hormones estrogen and progesterone play a role in opening the birth. These same hormones in most cases will cause all other joints to become more lax. Testosterone makes joints tighter.  Therefore, males having higher testosterone levels are generally less flexible than females.  

Is being able to touch your toes the bench mark of flexibility? 

It certainly is not bad if you can touch your toes; however, it is not necessarily bad if you cannot.  Flexibility needs to be understood more in terms of range of movement and mobility. The ability to move in all planes of human movement for the general tasks of daily life and movements specific to activities you enjoy.  

I am sure you have experienced stretching and the sensation of a greater degree of flexibility. On the other hand, I am sure you have also felt this new found flexibility quickly dissipate and return to your normal state. For decades people believed weight lifting caused a loss in range of movement making one less flexible. Improper, unbalanced weight lifting programs could have this result. However, a well designed weight lifting program is the best way to create flexibility, range of movement and mobility.  

Each muscle has an opposing muscle, for example the chest and back, the quadriceps and hamstring, the biceps and triceps. When opposing muscles are trained in balance a healthy range of movement around the joint is developed. Balance is not always 50/50. The correct ratio between a quadriceps and a hamstring is 3:2. This means if one performs an exercise that is primarily quad dominant, and 30 total repetitions are performed, then 20 repetitions of a hamstring dominant exercise should be performed as well.  

Too loose makes one injury prone and too tight makes one injury prone. Proper balanced weight lifting is critical to building a body that is not too tight or too loose. 

This does not mean don't stretch. The best time to stretch using static stretching techniques is after running or weight bearing exercise when the muscles are very warm. Before any workout the best method to warm up involves dynamic stretching, which includes the following types of movements: knee hugs, walking quad pulls, walking bent knee toe touches, easy leg swings, walking lunges, and walking side lunge.  

By all means stretch! But, do it at the end of your workout. Truly to really build a functional body incorporate weight bearing movements into your fitness routine focused on developing all muscles in balance.