27th Jan 2010

Are You Flexible?

Every time I’ve been to a Yoga class with my wife I almost get laughed out of the building when she watches me attempt to fold myself into the shapes that apparently my muscles and joints don’t agree with. The years of heavy lifting, wrestling, football, and their accompanying injuries have taken a toll on my ability to reach around my back or even touch my toes with my legs straight. I’ve often wondered if there is some way to test just how poor my flexibility is. It turns out there are quite a few methods available to see how you score. If you want to improve your flexibility, there are some useful measurements you can take to see what incremental gains you’ve made as you work on your flexibility.

With flexibility, as with most things, you have to start somewhere.

With flexibility, as with most things, you have to start somewhere.

Flexibility Testing

The term flexibility refers to a person’s ability to move a joint through a range of motion. It makes sense that the most common and easiest test of one’s flexibility is to use a device, such as a goniometer, to determine the range of motion of a person’s joint. Range of motion tests using goniometers are used to test active motions, wherein a person flexes his muscles to the limits of the joint range, as well as passive motions, in which a therapist or other person moves the joint through its range of motion and measures the result.

Flexibility Takes Work

This kind of flexibility doesn’t come easy.

Many different tests exist for measuring the various ranges of motion for joints such as the neck, shoulders, elbows, fingers, knees, etc. There are many different processes and methodologies that have been created to establish range of motion norms. Most studies involve using a goniometer or inclinometer. Some use Cervical Range of Motion (CROM) or other more technical devices to check flexibility in a joint.

Another popular test of flexibility is the sit and reach test, which measures the flexibility of one’s hips, lower back, and hamstrings together. The sit and reach test is normally done using a sit and reach box, which has scales printed on the top to show how far you can stretch. You sit flat on the ground with your legs extended outward. Your legs should be locked straight. If they’re bent, you’re cheating. You then bend over at the waist in a smooth, controlled motion (no jerking forward) and reach as far as you can along the box. On the sit and reach box pictured below, there is a marker that you push with your fingers. A standard for flexibility has been established, measured in centimeters. For an adult male, a score of 17cm or higher is considered excellent. 6cm to 16 cm is considered average. 0cm to 5cm is average. Anything below zero means you really need to work on your flexibility. For women, a score of 21cm or higher is excellent. 11cm to 20cm is above average. 1cm to 10 cm is average. Anything less than 0cm means you need work. As you can see from those standards, women are expected to be a bit more flexible than men.

Sit and Reach Test Flexibility Tester

The Sit and Reach Test is a standard tool used to measure flexibility in the back, arms, and legs.

Flexibility: A Pursuit

Chances are you already have a good feel for whether your flexibility level is healthy or not. You probably don’t even need to go to a Yoga class to determine that you are underperforming (in my case). The good news is that flexibility can be improved through exercise and concentrated effort. Improving your flexibility has been shown to produce an overall increase in health and wellness. Even if you have to start with a five minute program when you get out of bed in the morning, pursuing a more flexible you is a worthwhile goal.