Toe touch test – how to do it and how to improve your results

28th November, 2022 • 9 min read

The toe touch test is a good way to find out how flexible you are, without needing to see a doctor or a personal trainer.

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Flexibility is a really important signal for overall health and a whole lot more than just being able to do the splits.

You might do a lot of walking, swim often, or run to keep fit, but if you struggle to touch your toes, it can be a sign that your flexibility needs some work.

Read on to find out exactly how to do the toe touch test, and why it could be helpful.

Is it good to be able to touch your toes?

Flexibility means the total range of motion around a specific joint. Being flexible can help you avoid injury (especially if you play a lot of sports), improve your posture and keep your muscles strong.

Poor flexibility is linked with:

  • joint pain – if you’re less flexible, you’ll have shorter muscles and a reduced blood supply to them, which can cause pain
  • higher risk of injury – you’ll have stiffer connective tissues around your joints, which are more likely to strain or tear when you exercise
  • postural conditions – when you’re less flexible, you’re more likely to hold tightness in one area of your body, such as your hip. This might mean other areas of your body move differently, leading to a long-term injury – for example to your lower back.
  • bad performance – being less flexible can cause tightness and stiffness in your muscles and joints, and will stop you being able to perform as well when playing sport

What is the toe touch test?

The touch-toe test is one that sports experts often use to check overall flexibility. Its main focus is the muscles in your legs and back. It can also give you an idea of your general flexibility and whether you need to improve it, or if there’s anything else going in your body you might need to get checked out.

Who’s the toe touch test for?

Most able-bodied people can do the toe touch test at home. How well you can do it can be affected by a few things.

Why can’t I touch my toes?

  • age – the older you are the less flexible you’re likely to be because of less elasticity in your muscles as you get older
  • how much you sit down – staying seated for long periods of time can cause reduced flexibility due to reduced muscle length.

Why can I touch my toes?

  • gender – women are often more flexible than men
  • genetics – you might find this test easier if you inherit flexible genes from your parents
  • your physical activity. People who have regularly done yoga or pilates or other activities that increase flexibility are more likely to find it easier to touch their toes

How to touch your toes

There are a few different versions of this test, but for now, we’re going to talk you through the beginner version.

You will need:

  • to do a warm-up for around 10 minutes before the test – this could be star jumps, jogging on the spot, or bum kicks, for example
  • a tape measure
  • a friend or family member to measure for you. (If you can’t find a partner to measure for you, don’t worry, you can always measure the distance from your finger to the ground with a ruler)

Here’s how to do it:

  1. With your shoes off, stand upright, with your feet together on the floor.
  2. Keep your knees straight, make sure your toes are facing forwards and put one hand on top of the other straight out in front of you.
  3. Then, breathe out slowly and reach down as far as you can – you’re trying to touch your toes here.
  4. Hold wherever you can reach for a few seconds as your friend or family member measures the distance from the ground to your middle index finger.
  5. Repeat the test 2 to 3 times (with 60-second breaks in between) and record your average score.

Find it easy to touch your toes? Try the intermediate test

For this, you’ll need to stand 15-20 cm above the ground. You could try the first step on a set of stairs. Your task is to aim to reach past your toes.

Want more of a challenge? Try the advanced level

If you want to go even higher, stand 20-30 cm above the ground. You could try a high exercise stepper, or an exercise box. You’re aiming to reach past your toes in this level, too.

How to improve your flexibility – make it easier to touch your toes

If you’ve tried doing the toe touch test, but you didn’t get down as far as you’d hoped for, don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to become more flexible over time.
“And don't be disheartened if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere fast,” says Dr Ann. “The important thing is to see an improvement, no matter how small.”

Try a flexibility workout

  • Why not try activities such as
    tai chi
    ,
    pilates
    and
    yoga
    ? These are all said to be good for improving general flexibility and mobility.
  • Stretching is also worth trying and you’ll find many ideas for stretches to try online.

Stretches to improve your toe touch test

Doing a really good warm-up before completing the toe touch test could also help you improve your results. This is because warming up increases the temperature of your muscles and increases blood flow, as well as upping the range of movement at your joints. This may help you stretch further and reduce your risk of injury.

Below are some stretches you can try before working up to a better toe touch test result:

Hamstring stretch

  1. Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall, or near a door frame.
  2. Lift your left leg and rest your left heel against the wall. Make sure you keep your left knee slightly bent.
  3. Slowly and gently, straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh (hamstring).
  4. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
  5. Switch your legs and repeat.

Shoulder stretch

  1. Bring your left arm straight across your body and use your right arm to hold it, either above or below the elbow.
  2. Hold for about 30 seconds.
  3. Switch your arms and repeat.

Hip flexor stretch

  1. Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with something soft like a folded towel.
  2. Place your left foot in front of you and bend your knee. Place your left hand on your left leg to keep you upright.
  3. Put your right hand on your right hip to stop you from bending at the waist. Make sure to keep your back straight and your stomach muscles tight.
  4. Lean forward, shifting more body weight onto your front leg. You should feel a stretch in your right thigh.
  5. Hold this for about 30 seconds.
  6. Switch your legs and repeat.

Other signs your flexibility needs work

Not being able to touch your toes isn’t the only sign of low flexibility. Dr. Ann Nainan, a Healthily doctor, says you should also pay attention to:

  • bad posture – do you often slouch when you walk to work, or as you sit at your desk?
  • aches and pains – do you get neck or lower back pain?
  • sore and tight muscles – your ligaments will often become squished and shortened if you don’t stretch them enough, which can lead to pain
  • difficulty doing everyday tasks – these include bending down to pick something up off the floor and reaching up to a tall cupboard to get something

Joint and muscle pains can also be signs of other problems so it’s best to see a doctor if you’re not sure what’s causing your pain.

What are the problems with the toe touch test?

The toe touch test is a good way for you to measure how flexible you are in your hamstrings, hips, shoulders, and lumbar spine.

But the test only gives you a small snapshot into whole-body flexibility – you have over 300 individual joints in your body, and these aren’t all put to the test when you try to touch your toes.

It’s also not accessible for everyone. If you have a health condition or disability that stops you doing the toe touch test, the sit and reach test could be a better way for you to measure your flexibility.

Is touching your toes bad for your back?

“If you have lower back pain or a back injury, touching your toes usually isn’t a good idea. It stretches your back and the backs of your legs, but it also puts your back in a flexed position, which can put extra pressure on your spine, making back pain worse. If you want to try touching your toes in a safer position, you could try the sit and reach test,” says Dr. Ann.

When to see a doctor about poor flexibility

Poor flexibility could just mean that you need to stretch more often, sit less and get involved in aerobic activities to improve it.
“If your flexibility is low and you notice pain in your joints after exercise, a change in how your joints look, or stiffness and a lack of mobility in your arms or legs, it’s best to speak to a doctor who can help you work out what’s going on,” says Dr. Ann. In some cases, poor flexibility can also be caused by something more serious, such as osteoarthritis, a common disease which affects 32.5 million adults in the US. Read more about osteoarthritis in our article on how to

spot, prevent and treat arthritis
.

You could also try using our

Smart Symptom Checker
to see what your next steps should be.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.