Assessing Your Fitness (Part Three: Flexibility)

October 18, 2010 // Al Kavadlo

I once knew a guy who threw out his back while getting a beer out of a cooler. Seriously.

If you don’t take care of your body, at some point you’ll wind up getting an (easily preventable) injury.

Flexibility is often the most overlooked aspect of fitness, but without a full range of motion in your joints, basic exercises like squats, overhead presses and even pull-ups can be problematic.

The most common areas where people tend to become overly tight are the hips, hamstrings, shoulders and back, though tightness in the wrists and ankles can also pose a problem when performing exercises like push-ups and squats.

If you’re inflexible, you need to devote as much attention to improving your range of motion as you do to increasing your strength. After all, without a healthy range of motion in your joints, you can’t fully work your muscles.

Hamstring Flexibility
The standard way to assess hamstring flexibility is the sit and reach test. (See photo above)

After warming up, have a seat on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Without bending your knees, reach forward for your toes. If you cannot touch your toes, you need to work towards loosening your hamstrings.

Hip Mobility
To test the range of motion in your hips, you’ll need a sturdy table or ledge just below waist height. Pick up one leg and place the outside of your ankle on the table. Now rotate your hip to try to touch your knee to the table as well (your shin should be perpendicular to your body.) If you cannot touch your knee to the table, your hip mobility could stand to improve.

Shoulders and Back
Shoulder mobility can also be easily tested. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Reach both hands overhead and try to touch your wrists to the ground without raising your lower back off the floor. If you cannot do this, guess what? You have poor range of motion in your shoulders and upper back.

While men generally tend to be stronger than women, flexibility is one area where the ladies get the long end of the stick. Most men will not be able to pass all three tests (I can’t – my shoulders are tight!) so don’t feel bad. Luckily, there is a simple solution to this problem – stretch!

Improving your flexibility takes time, especially for older individuals as your body has had more time to get used to being stiff. You must be patient and dedicated if you wish to increase your flexibility.

Right: I’ve found this stretch, which I like to call a “wall dog,” to be helpful for my upper back, but it can also be useful for stretching the hamstrings and calves. Start by grabbing a bar or a ledge that’s a bit higher than waist level. Next, step back, push your hips out and press your chest to the ground. Try to avoid bending your knees or rounding your back.

For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.