Stand with your feet together, keeping your legs straight and knees locked. Gently bend forward and touch your toes. Can you do it?
Many people can’t touch their toes, but don’t be quick to assume it’s because you have tight hamstrings and need to stretch more to increase flexibility in the muscles. Not being able to touch your toes can actually suggest that there is a bigger problem in one or more of the body’s muscles, as it relates to your mobility and stability.
Performing a simple toe touch test will determine the reason behind an inability to touch your toes and help you work out how you can rectify the problem.
The Standing Toe Touch Test
Everything in the body is connected, meaning if something is wrong in one area, the body will overcompensate in another. For example, lack of mobility in the hips (which can cause inability to touch your toes), will cause the body to rely more heavily on movement from the lower back. Performing the standing toe touch test can help determine what area is likely to be stopping you from achieving optimum flexibility.
The standing toe touch test seen in the first part of the chart above, can help focus in on a particular problematic side of the body. Start by attempting to touch both toes at the same time – if this can’t be achieved, try testing each leg at a time to see whether one side is more deficient than the other.
The Sitting Toe Touch Test
The second part of the flow chart gets you to try the same exercise but while sitting down on the ground. It’s this test that can determine whether the problem is likely to be with your stability or mobility. So sit down on the ground with legs in front, knees and feet together. Slowly bend forward to touch your toes. Are you able to reach further?
Mobility Or Stability?
If you performed the sitting test and weren’t able to reach further than the standing test, then you are looking at a mobility issue located in the lower back, pelvis, hips, or hamstring tightness. With lack of mobility, you are more likely to develop injury in the back due to overcompensation and less active use of the butt muscles.
If you’re able to reach further by touching your toes in a sitting position, then stability may be the problem. By sitting on the ground, you increase your stability, and the nervous system allows more movement throughout the body because it feels more stable to do so.
Exercise For Increasing Mobility: The Squat
If you’ve identified your problem as mobility, then doing an exercise that targets mobility throughout the body can help immensely in achieving the toe touch test. One of the best exercises you can do is the squat because it increases mobility in the hips and help with muscle imbalance.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
Move your toes so that they’re pointing slightly outwards – around 5 to 20 degrees.
Stack your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles.
Keep your shoulders back and your spine in a neutral position to stop pressure on the lower back.
Extend your arms straight out in front of you, palms down.
Move your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend.
While the butt starts to stick out, make sure the chest and shoulders stay upright, and the back stays straight. Keep the head facing forward with eyes straight ahead, for a neutral spine.
Try lowering down so that your butt is below the level of your knees for best mobility.
Gently return to standing position and repeat for 10-20 reps.
Exercise For Increasing Stability: The Plank
If stability is your problem, then performing planks can help to strengthen the core and promote good stability throughout the body.
Bodyweight exercises are gaining ground in the fitness world due to the practicality and simplicity of getting in shape using your own body weight. Planks are one form of bodyweight exercises that will never go out of fashion. Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Why? Because they require a small time investment on your part, and offer the chance to achieve substantial results in a relatively short span of time.
Why is it important to train up our core strength?
There are numerous sites and blogs which detail ways to build your core muscles or core strength. Often though, these sites neglect to explain what your core muscles actually are, and why building them is important.
This is quite surprising, as core muscles are quite easy to explain. Your core muscles are a series of muscles in your midsection, and are used in most forms of movement. Though they aren’t housed in your arms or legs, your core muscles can help transfer force from one limb to another, or are used in addition to muscles in your arms or legs to increase their effectiveness. As such a strong core will make a big improvement on your ability to move and exercise further.
Also they are great for helping other muscles in your midsection such as your abdominal muscles. Your abdominal muscles are important for supporting your back and spinal column, and as such are important aids in preventing injuries. However for them to be most effective you need to spend a lot of time developing your core muscles.
In short, planking exercises can make a huge improvement in your muscles down your whole body. Making them a hugely effective exercise to perform.
One Exercise, multiple benefits
There are few forms of exercise as effective at building your core as planking exercises. However, planking exercises benefit far more than just your core strength.
By holding yourself in the position for a planking exercise, you’ll notice that your biceps, neck, and shoulder muscles are also being tested and strained. This this encouraging their buildup and development. This is great news if you like to do press ups, developed shoulder muscles will have a big impact on your press up performance.
When planking, you are holding yourself up through your arms and biceps and so by holding a planking position, your arm muscles are being toned and developed. Making planking a great alternative exercise to other forms of bicep developing exercises.
Moving down your midsection, successful plank exercises actually develop the muscles in your butt! These muscles tend to be ignored by a lot of exercises, so this is another great benefit of plank exercises.
In much the same way as you develop your biceps and arm muscles, holding the planking position helps develop the muscles in your thighs too.
What is even better is that planking exercises don’t take much time at all. In fact you should probably only spend about ten minutes max per day in the planking exercise.
What will happen when you start doing planks every day
1. You’ll improve core definition and performance:
Planks are an ideal exercise for the abdominal muscles exactly because they engage all major core muscle groups including the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the external oblique muscle, and the glutes. The importance of strengthening each muscle group cannot be underestimated either, for all of these groups serve their own purpose. If you strengthen these muscle groups you will notice:
Rectus adbominis: improved sports performance, particularly with jumping. This muscle group is also responsible for giving you the renowned six pack look.
Oblique muscles: improved capacity for stable side-bending and waist-twisting
Glutes: a supported back and a strong, shapely booty.
2. You’ll decrease your risk of injury in the back and spinal column
Doing planks is a type of exercise that allow you to build muscle while also making sure that you are not putting too much pressure on your spine or hips. According to the American Council on Exercise, doing planks regularly not only significantly reduces back pain but it also strengthens your muscles and ensures a strong support for your entire back, especially in the areas around your upper back.
Check out this article if you would like to find out about how doing planks on different surfaces can impact the effectiveness of this exercise in strengthening your core.
3. You’ll experience an increased boost to your overall metabolism
Planking is an excellent way of challenging your entire body because doing them every day will burn more calories than other traditional abdominal exercises, such as crunches or sit-ups. The muscles you strengthen by doing this exercise on a day-to-day basis will ensure that you burn more energy even when sedentary. This is especially important if you are spending the majority of your day sitting in front of a computer. Also, making it a daily 10- to 1 minute home exercise before or after work will not only provide an enhanced metabolic rate but it will also ensure that that metabolic rate remains high all day long, (yes, even while you are asleep).
4. You’ll significantly improve your posture
Planking exercises have a great impact and improvement on your posture. This is great news as a strong posture brings with it a huge number of fantastic benefits .
A good posture keeps your bones and joins in the correct alignment which means both your bones and joints will be better maintained and more healthy, but also means the overall effectiveness of your muscles will be improved.
A good posture will ensure your back or spine is in the correct position and so you will suffer less back pain.
On top of everything, someone with good posture looks better, healthier, and more confident.
5. You’ll improve overall balance
Have you ever felt that when you tried standing on one leg, you couldn’t stand up straight for more than a couple of seconds? It’s not because you were drunk- unless you happened to be at the time!- but rather, it’s because your abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to give you the balance you needed. Through improving your balance by doing side planks and planks with extensions you will boost your performance in every kind of sporting activity.
6. You’ll become more flexible than ever before
Flexibility is a key benefit of doing planks regularly, for this form of exercise expands and stretches all your posterior muscle groups – shoulders, shoulder blades, and collarbone – while also stretching your hamstrings, arches of your feet, and toes. With a side plank added in to the mix, you can also work on your oblique muscles. This will provide you with further benefits when it comes to hyper-extending your toes, a movement that is crucial for supporting your body’s weight.
7. You’ll witness mental benefits
Plank exercises have a particular effect on our nerves, making them an excellent means of improving overall mood. How? Well, they stretch out muscle groups that contribute to stress and tension in the body. Just think about it: you are sitting in your chair, at home or at work, all day long; your thigh muscles get tight, your legs get heavy due to being bent for several hours; and tension develops in your shoulders due to being forced to slump forward all day. These are all circumstances that put too stress on the muscles and nerves. The good news is that planks not only calm your brain, but they can also treat anxiety and symptoms of depression– but only if you make it part of your daily routine.
How to hold a plank position
Get into pushup position on the floor.
Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms.
Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
Hold the position for as long as you can.
Remember to breathe. Inhale and exhale slowly and steadily.
When your form begins to suffer, pull the plug. You’re only benefiting from the plank by actually doing the plank.
Watch the video if you have any doubt!
Here is a great infographic that shows the best plank variation exercises to evenly target all abdominal muscle groups:
How to improve your plank time gradually
Start with the easier variation if needed. You can start with a bent-knee plank if you can’t perform a regular plank yet. If you can hold a plank for more than two minutes with ease, you can move on to these tougher variations.
Practise every day. Space your planking exercise throughout the day and do 3-4 times every day. Try to hold the position 10 seconds longer each time.
Perform other body-weight exercises at the same time. Push-up and squat will improve your core strength too.
Are you ready to devote 5-10 minutes of your day, every day, to stay fit, healthy and, most importantly, strong as a bull? Then jump in and make doing plank exercises a part of your life.
Who Should Be Cautious Doing The Plank?
You need to be cautious doing Planking exercises if any of these risks apply to you:
After prolapse surgery
Pelvic pain conditions
Weak or poorly functioning pelvic floor muscles
Choose an alternative pelvic floor abdominal exercise or consult your doctor before performing plank regularly.