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Before you begin a flexibility program, it is a good idea to gauge your current level of flexibility. This way you can target problem areas that may need extra attention, and help you measure your progress.
Testing for flexibility can be complex or simple. Exercise scientists and physical therapists use instruments called goniometers to measure degrees of joint rotation at the extremes of range of motion. Flexibility is joint-specific, according to the authors of the Exercise Testing and Prescription Lab Manual (Human Kinetics). Determining the range of motion for one joint is not an indicator of flexibility in other joints.
The simplest and least scientific way to measure flexibility is how a person performs activities of daily living. If you can flex and extend a joint, reach, turn, twist, kneel, climb stairs, and bend with relative ease, the joint is flexible.
Between those scientific and simple tests are a few flexibility self-tests you can do at home. They are strictly informal, do-it-yourself measurements that will give you a general idea of your current flexibility. Be careful, do them slowly, don’t hurt yourself, and don’t do them at all if there is the slightest risk of injury.
Lower body: sit-and-reach
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched outward.
- Keeping your back flat and not rounded, bend forward at the hips.
- Reach toward your toes. Do not bounce or stretch to the point of pain.
- Note the distance from the tips of the middle fingers to the top of your toes.
- If you can reach past your toes, you have above average lower body flexibility.
- If you can touch your toes, you have average lower body flexibility.
- If you cannot touch your toes, or need to bend your knees to touch them, you have below average lower body flexibility.
Hips, buttocks: lying knee-to-chest
- Lie on your back and draw your knees to your chest.
- Continue holding the left knee in that position while you extend the right leg until it lies flat on the floor.
- Repeat the movement with the other leg.
- If you cannot completely extend one leg while bringing the opposite knee to within a few inches of your chest, your hip flexors and buttocks may be too tight.
Lower back, hamstrings: standing toe reach
Note: Do not perform this test if you have any question regarding the condition of your back.
- Stand with your feet together, knees straight but not locked.
- Bend forward and reach for the floor. Try to keep your back flat.
- Your lower back and hamstring flexibility is good if you can touch or nearly touch your toes with little effort and no discomfort.
- If you can’t come close, you may be susceptible to lower back injuries.
Shoulders: behind-the-back reach
- In a standing position, place your left hand on the middle of your back, palm out, fingers reaching up.
- Slide your right hand behind and down your back and try to touch your hands or fingers.
- If they can touch you have good shoulder flexibility.
- Switch hand positions and repeat with the other shoulder.
- If your hands do not touch, place a ruler in the bottom hand and measure the distance between the opposing fingers.
- If you are not within an inch of making contact, you may be susceptible to shoulder and neck pain.
For more information on a flexibility program, purchase Easy Exercises For Flexibility from University Health News.