You might notice that the title isn't “stretch your hamstrings, touch the toes.” That’s because using your body weight to try and pull yourself down toward the floor to touch the toes just doesn’t work. Static stretching of your muscles can potentially tighten your hamstrings further if you push past the point of your muscle's present length by sheer force; there's a nifty protective mechanism called the myotatic reflex ("stretch reflex") that prevents you from causing fiber damage to the muscle. When this reflex is invoked, it actually causes the muscle to contract back against the stretch. So if you shouldn't stretch, they how are you supposed to lengthen your muscles? Pandiculation consciously engages your brain to reset your muscles. First you contract, then slowly lengthen, then relax completely, much like a big yawn.
Try this pandiculation in place of your regular "touch the toes" routine:
Test out your present range: bend down to touch your toes. Let’s say that you can only get as far as in the photo.
Inhale and lift your head, tighten your back, buttocks, and hamstrings ,and lift yourself back up a little. Be aware of tightening those muscle groups in a pattern.
Slowly lengthen and release down toward the floor only as far as is comfortable. Then inhale, engage the back, buttocks, and hamstrings, and slowly lift the head again.
Again, slowly lengthen down toward the floor, only going as far as comfortable. You will notice that it’s easier to go further, as the muscles are being released actively. When you’ve gone as far as you can, lift the head, tighten the back in a bit of an arch, and engage the buttocks and hamstrings.
For the last time, slowly and consciously lengthen and release down toward the floor. Look how far you’ve come!
Bend your knees and roll yourself back up to standing. Close your eyes and the different sensations of your back, buttocks, and legs.
Not only does this variation help to lengthen the hamstrings, but it may also help you find relief from back pain!