The Toe Touch: Why we did the Sit-and-Reach in gym class

First off I would like to apologize for not posting in a very long time.  I recently started a second job and so a lot of my free time has now been resorted to napping in lieu of my long work days.  I will try harder to post more frequently as the weeks progress.

In Middle/High School we all had to complete the Presidents Council Fitness Test.  The Test from what I remember consisted of Situps in a minute, Pullups, Shuttle Run, Mile run, and the Sit-and-Reach (if I forgot any please enlighten me).  I also would like to know if this fitness test is still performed in gym class (thats right I said GYM class), or if some less-fit variation is being conducted (thanks to all of the fat kids).

Getting off track a little there.  More Importantly I wanted to take special look at the Sit-and-Reach:

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This test takes a look at two specific and functional patterns.  First is “unloaded” spinal flexion, when I say unloaded I mean that no external force is acting on your lower spine during this exercise.  This is contrary to most of the sit-up variations where the external force acting on your spine is the force of your body movements (this argument is for another post).  

The other movement pattern this test is looking at is your ability to “hinge” at the hips.  Think of your hips as a door hinge, the door frame is your legs and your upper body is the door itself.  This is an important functional movement pattern because it is the main movement to activate the posterior chain (the muscles on the back of your legs that all work together).  

How is this position any different from a person who is standing and asked to touch their toes.  Yes their body is oriented differently so gravity and your core musculature is acting in a different matter, but the principle is still the same.  

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See.  Virtually no difference in the test.

Now why is this test so important?  Why is the ability to touch your toes so important?

Stand up right now and try to touch your toes without bending your knees.  Can you do it?  If so great, if not…well you might need some work on your hips that static stretching simply won’t solve.  The inability to touch your toes does not qualify as muscle stiffness, it qualifies as movement dysfunction (the inability to move properly or freely through a full range of motion).

Those individuals who cannot touch their toes should not deadlift, ever.  The inability to properly hinge at the hips will cause you to round the lower spine.  So when that rounded spine is placed under an external load (the deadlift or some variation) this is when many potentially bad things can happen (herniation, pulled muscles just to name a few).  

Here is a short video of Gray Cook talking more in depth about the toe touch, and why not being able to touch your toes is NOT muscle stiffness (tightness).  

Little update:  I will be going to Cressey Performance in Hudson Ma (just outside of Boston) for the Elite Training Workshop on April 21st.  There will be a bunch of speakers whom I look up to for their knowledge and resources and I am really looking forward to it.  I will take what I learn from them and share some of it with you (can’t give away all of my secrets).