The Toe Touch Test Versus The Sit And Reach In Pre-Season Screening

A question came to our Facebook page here recently from Joe Quinn asking why I used the standing toe touch test versus the sit and reach in pre-season screening.

Although both tests share the same objective (can you touch your toes), the dynamics will change between the two tests.

  • The main difference will be that the standing toe touch test is done to standing and from a stability requirement will have greater demands placed on the body to achieve the outcome. The result will give us more information regarding how our body completes the task as a more interacting system with the stability requirements more challenging. We can still look at how the body achieves the job from a subjective point of view in regards thoracic and ribcage mobility, and pelvic angles like most like to see when assessing the sit and reach.

As you may know by now, I don’t place lots of value on this information as I believe these are simply reactions anyways of the body doing its best to keep some equilibrium within the system and very rarely the actual cause of a potential injury. However, I have used the standing toe touch test as a pre-training marker in-season for years. I would rather get some insight into how the body is interacting and managing forces through the system with a greater load that challenges the loading on the lumbar spine also to see how the nervous system reacts and the outcome that we observe.

  • Another difference in using the toe touch test versus the sit and reach in pre-season screening is the ankles will usually be allowed to plantarflex with the standing toe touch test while the ankles will tend to be locked in dorsiflexion with the sit and reach test.

I don’t think there is any right or wrong with this difference. I do think the toe touch test outcome will take into consideration in some part the ability to put a force into the ground and receive a reaction and deal with those forces through the body dynamically more so than the sit and reach test. We will ultimately see how we deal with the equal force via the score and the ‘movement output’.

  • The final major difference would be the ability to ‘cheat’ and bend the knees to achieve the outcome with the standing toe touch rather than have the knees extended in the sit and reach.

I do think there needs to be an element of education in pre-season with this limitation with the athletes but ultimately it is not realistic to watch every single athlete perform their tests in the morning. The athletes will soon learn the value in doing these tests genuinely and not simply doing them to ‘deceive’ you and I think that part is influenced by many other factors beyond the scope of this blog post.

IMPORTANT

The key practical point is never to put your eggs in one basket with any test but rather use this test along with the other objective tests you use, combine them with your wellness scores and other data that you collect and make sense of the whole picture.

There will always be times during the year when you will expect these scores to be down. These athletes need to stress their nervous systems in contact sessions, maximal strength training sessions and conditioning sessions in the form of prolonged running to more intense sessions. It is the ability to make sense of the scores and clinically reason why the athlete has adapted this way the following day that is important. The objective markers are designed to help us make more informed decisions but certainly not dictate.

Both of the tests have both positives and negatives. However, in my experience, I have had the most benefit from using the standing toe touch test rather than the sit and reach test in pre-season screening as I would rather use this test in a season with the pre-training markers. When this test combined with the subjective wellness, the other objective markers AND the story of the last few training days this can be very powerful in helping us identify how the body has reacted to the stressors. Where to start with undoing some of these reactions either with some form of movement drills or key areas of the body to target in pre-movement training sessions is the next question, and these tests should help somewhat with this.

As always, thanks for reading.

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