Assessing Your Fitness (Part Three: Flexibility)

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.

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  • http://dragonmamma-dragoncave.blogspot.com/ Dragonmamma

    The one I flunk (which I knew I would) is the hip mobility. I have weird hips. I can bend my legs outward in the totally opposite direction, but I’ve never even been comfortable sitting cross-legged.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Go figure. It’s probably not too late to improve though if you want to.

  • Mike Opteris

    Hey Al thanks for the great series. I’ve been trying to incorporate your suggestions into my daily workout and I’ve been enjoying them. I’ve always wondered about stretching though. I’ve read that it’s not necessary, but to be flexible one needs “looseness”. I like your assessments. They answer my question simply and practically. Stretching is necessary, when needed, and not too much! Now, I need to go work on my hamstrings!
    Best wishes,
    Mike

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Happy to help out, Mike. Like you said, I aim to keep my advice simple and practical. Be patient with your hammies and eventually you’ll get to touch your toes.

  • 979 Roadrunner

    Failed all three. no surprise, though after months of stretcing hams 5x20s I’d at lest be good there

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Have your hammies gotten any less tight since you began stretching them regularly?

  • Karlmacphee

    Thanks Al…for the readers, make sure you follow Kelly Starett’s Mobility Wod because there is a ton of great information on mobility there.
    http://mobilitywod.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    No prob, Karl. Thanks for sharing that link.

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  • Noel

    I threw my back out picking up a shovel; I wish it had been a beer from a cooler. Laying in the snow with a spasming back would definitely have been more fun with the beer than the shovel. Since then I went back to my books by Pavel and great sites like yours and have done a lot of working on core strength (which is surprisingly in vogue right now, I never gave it a thought when I was training for powerlifting years ago). Love your site Al, keep up the great work. I especially like your (Daoist? Buddhist?) outlook that shows up in many posts. :)

  • Noel

    I threw my back out picking up a shovel; I wish it had been a beer from a cooler. Laying in the snow with a spasming back would definitely have been more fun with the beer than the shovel. Since then I went back to my books by Pavel and great sites like yours and have done a lot of working on core strength (which is surprisingly in vogue right now, I never gave it a thought when I was training for powerlifting years ago). Love your site Al, keep up the great work. I especially like your (Daoist? Buddhist?) outlook that shows up in many posts. :)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Haha – bummer about your back, but glad to hear it motivated you to get in better shape!  As for the Daoism/Buddhism thing, I’ve definitely been influenced by both of those philosophies but I took what I like from each and added in some of my own stuff.  I guess you could call what I do “Al-ism.”

  • gastar91

    Hey Al!
    Although Im pretty strong (no comparison to you for sure ;) ) Ive been neglecting flexibility for the most part. Now as I heard from you and other guys, it is good to stretch every day if I wanna get more flexible. But I notice I am really weak when doing bodyweight workouts even though I always only stretch AFTER the workout. what can I do?
    i need to get flexible fast but dont wanna lose my strength.
    Thanks a lot

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Keep training and stretching consistently – results will come in time.  Try to drop the whole “I need results FAST” attitude.  Good things come to those who wait!

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