Not being able to touch your toes doesn't mean you're out of shape—you might just have tight hamstrings! These muscles are frequently tight—and uncomfortable to stretch—and yet they get a lot of attention because toe touches are one of the most used flexibility tests. Luckily, there are a few ways to stretch them that are less painful but still work in boosting flexibility.
Types of Stretches
For the hamstrings, you can use every type of stretch: static, dynamic and PNF.
Static stretching is when you hold a stretch for up to 30 seconds to let the muscle relax. Dynamic stretching means both warming up and stretching at the same time. It means that you're moving while stretching to warm the muscle and simultaneously increase your range of motion.
PNF stretching, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is when you contract a muscle and then relax into a stretch. When you do this type of stretching your nervous system relaxes more and lets you pull the muscle further into a stretch.
Sit on the ground with your legs out straight. Bend your left knee and bring the bottom of your left foot against the inside of your right knee. Reach with one or both hands toward the right toe, trying to touch it. You can also lean forward to get a better stretch. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
Lateral Hamstring Stretch
Prop one leg up on a raised surface, no higher than your waist, with your knee straight. You should be facing straight forward, standing on the other leg. Reach across your body and touch the toe of the leg that's up and then move back to the starting position. Do 10 reps on each side, where you each across to stretch and return to the start position. If you need more of a stretch, raise the surface that you put your foot on.
Banded Leg Raise
This stretch is a form of PNF. Normally, you need a partner to give you resistance, but the band does that job perfectly. Get a tight band because you're going to be pushing back against it to contract your hamstring before relaxing it into the stretch.
Grab a resistance band and lie down on your back. Put the band around one foot. Both of your legs should be flat on the ground with knees straight. Pull up on the leg that has the band, keeping the knee straight, until you feel a stretch in the hamstring. Hold it for three seconds, and then press the leg back down to the ground, resisting it with the band. Do this five times and hold for a 10-count on the fifth rep, then switch sides.
Walking Toe Touch
This is an active and dynamic hamstring stretch in which you'll walk and stretch every step.
Start by taking one step forward. Plant the heel of the front foot, keep the toes up and straighten out your knee. Reach across your body with the opposite hand to touch that toe, then stand up and step forward with the other foot, repeating the stretch on that side.
Like the walking toe touch, this is also a dynamic walking stretch. Take a step forward and swing your back leg up, keeping your knee as straight as possible. Kick as high as you comfortably can, then step forward onto the swinging foot and kick with the other leg. You can hold your arms up at shoulder-height to give yourself a target to hit.