3 Simple Tests to Assess Your Flexibility
By Flavia Del Monte – R.N., C.P.T., PN Certified
You probably already know that mobility and flexibility are crucial to having a successful fitness program. How flexible do you really need to be? Which parts of your body do you need to stretch? The three simple flexibility tests described here can help you monitor your flexibility, identify areas for improvement, and help you put a plan of action together to fix them.
TEST 1 – Hip Flexor Test
This test is important because tight hip flexors contribute to low back pain. Floor pelvic mobility and flexibility in the hip flexors is important for pelvic mobility and stability. In addition, tight quadriceps and iliotibial band can alter your alignment and contribute to knee pain in running and lifting weights.
Execution of Test – Lying on your back on a table or flat bench, bring your right knee towards your chest. Maintaining the low back and tailbone flat on the table. If you have good flexibility in your hip flexor, the left thigh should rest at or below the level of the bench or table. It should hang off the edge. If your left leg is pulled above the bench, this means that your hip flexor is tight. Ideally your left knee should flex at an angle of about 90 degrees. If it straightens more than that, it means there’s tightness in the quadriceps. If the leg moves out to the side, this means the tensor fascia lata or iliotibial band (IT band) is tight.
How to Improve – If your hip flexor is tight, try doing lunge stretches with arms overhead. Get into the lunge position. Kneel on your right knee – toes down. Place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you with knees bent and aligned with the ankle. Place your hands on your left thigh for balancing. Press hips forward until you feel tensions in the front of your knee. Extend your right arm over your head. Hold for 30 seconds or until you feel tension subside. Repeat on the other side.
If your quadriceps are tight, do the standing quadriceps stretch. You can start by holding onto a wall or tree for support. Bend your right knee and with your right hand bring your heel towards your buttocks. Hold onto your ankle. Be sure to stand straight and not overarch your back. Both thighs should be together still. You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds or until you feel tension subside. Repeat on the other side.
If your IT band is tight, perform the figure-four one-leg cross-over stretch. Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Lift your right foot off the floor and bring your right thigh close to your chest. Thread your left arm so that you are holding onto your right thigh. Use your left elbow to gently press your left knee away from your chest. Hold 30 seconds or until initial tension subsides. Repeat on the other side. This stretches your glutes which will reduce IT band tension.
TEST 2 – Hamstring Test
Hamstring flexibility is important to ensure proper hip, knee and pelvic mechanics. Good hamstring flexibility can help to prevent lower back pain.
Execution of Test – Laying on your back on a bench or floor, extend your legs. Your lower back sacrum should be flat on the floor or bench. If the lower back doesn’t flatten due to hip flexor tightness, you can place a pillow under your knee of the leg not being tested. Raise one leg towards chest using a towel or tube around your foot if needed. Keep the leg straight. Also, keep your foot relaxed to avoid engaging the calf muscles. Ideally your extended leg and the bench or floor should form about an 80 degree to 90 degree angle or more. If so, this indicates that there is good flexibility in the hamstrings.
How to Improve – To improve hamstring flexibility, try the downward facing dog which is a yoga pose. Start on all fours with knees approximately hip width apart. Curl your toes under and lift your knees off the floor. Lift your sit bones up and back towards the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Press your palms and shoulders towards the floor so your neck is relaxed. The first few times performing this stretch, knees should be bent in order to not overstrain your muscles. As you get more flexible, slowly straighten the legs without locking your knees. Coming out of the pose, lower your knees to the floor to end up on all fours again. Start by holding the pose for 10 seconds and repeat three times. Gradually work up to 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
TEST 3 – Mid-Trunk Flexibility Test
A decrease in trunk flexibility can contribute to excessive load on one side of the body.
Execution of Test – Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, put your arms out to the side at shoulder level with palms facing up. Slowly lean your legs to the right side, until you feel a stretch and note if your left shoulder starts to rise off the floor. Repeat on the other side. The side where your shoulder can’t stay on the ground is the side which you have less trunk flexibility and dissociation between your trunk (your upper body) and pelvis (your lower body).
How to Improve – The side-bending stretch helps increase flexibility between your rib cage and pelvis. Stand with your feet together and arms overhead, palms together. Think of lengthening your spine, and keep shoulders relaxed. Slowly lean on your right side with your trunk. Reach with your arms to the ceiling while planting your feet into the ground. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your trunk. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat three times. Work up to holding for 30 seconds. Repeat on each side.
Don’t let your body stiffen up! Keeping it flexible is a way to make sure your workouts are successful and hitting every area they should!