Flexibility Testing and Tips for Improving Flexibility

In a nutshell

You might have heard that flexibility is important for a healthy life, but did you know it could also help you live longer? Flexibility is the key to maintaining mobility, preventing injury, and boosting longevity.

In this article, you will:  

  • Learn about the link between flexibility and longevity,
  • Discover three straightforward flexibility testing techniques you can perform in the comfort of your own home,
  • Uncover practical tips for improving your flexibility and enhancing your quality of life.

Flexibility is vital for a healthy life. It refers to the range of motion of a joint or a group of joints, as well as the ability of muscles to lengthen and relax. Good flexibility can help prevent injuries, improve posture, and increase overall physical performance while boosting longevity.

In this article, we’ll explore different ways to evaluate flexibility and tips on how to improve your flexibility so that you can reap its benefits.

Flexibility and Longevity


Flexibility is more than just being able to touch your toes. It’s about maintaining the optimal range of motion in your joints, which supports joint health and function. When your joints are healthy, you’re more likely to stay active and engaged in life, contributing to overall well-being and longevity.

The research shows that with aging, we lose flexibility in our joints. On average, after age 55, shoulder joints lose about 5 -6 degrees/decade, and hip joints about 6 – 7 degrees/decade.1

However, the good news is that the decline was less pronounced in physically active individuals than in those who were less active. The researchers found that participants who regularly engaged in physical activity had significantly better flexibility scores than their less active counterparts.

Good flexibility also promotes balance and coordination, two essential components of an active and healthy lifestyle. When your muscles and joints are flexible, you’re less likely to experience falls and accidents, which can have serious consequences as you age.

Evaluating Your Flexibility

Before you can work on improving your flexibility, it’s essential to know where you stand. Here are three simple yet effective flexibility testing techniques to get a general idea of where is your own reference point.

The Sit-and-Reach Test and V-sit Test

Sit-and-Reach test is a classic test measuring the flexibility of your hamstrings and lower back. Critics argue that the sit and reach test doesn’t accurately measure functional flexibility, as it doesn’t relate to common real-life activities requiring back and hamstring flexibility. While new assessments are being developed, the sit and reach test can still be useful for tracking general flexibility changes over time.2 There are some variations in how the test is measured depending on where the zero point is. Here we present one of the most commonly used variations of performing and measuring this test.

To perform the test, you need to have a specialized sit-and-reach testing box, or you can create your own by using a sturdy 12 inches (30 cm) tall box and attaching a meter stick on top, ensuring that 10 inches (26 cm) of the ruler extends over the front edge towards you. The 10 inches (26 cm) mark should align with the box’s edge.

Remember to warm up before the test. To begin, sit barefoot on the floor with legs extended, knees straight, and feet against the test box’s front slightly apart and toes pointing up. Place one hand on top of the other, then gradually lean forward from the hips, maintaining straight knees, and slide your hand along the ruler as far as possible. Stretch to your maximum, note the measurement in inches (centimeters), rest, and repeat three times. Finally, calculate your average score from the recorded results. This test measures the low-back flexibility and flexibility of both legs simultaneously. You can learn more and see the guidance video from this resource.

Below is a general score guideline for adults on the sit-and-reach test.

For men:

CmIn
ExcellentOver 27 Over 10.6
Good22-278.7-10.6
Average17-226.7-8.7
Below average12-174.7-6.7
Poor124.7

For women:

CmIn
ExcellentOver 30 cm Over 11.8
Good24-309.4-11.8
Average19-247.5-9.4
Below average14-195.5-7.5
Poor145.5

The alternative to the classical sit-and-reach test is a V-sit test. This test is like the sit-and-reach test, but you don’t need a box. Instead, you will need a tape measure and ruler.

First, mark a line on the floor with the tape measure and put the ruler across it at the 10-inch mark (26 cm). Sit with your heels on the line and your feet 12 inches (30 cm) apart (approx. 45 degrees). Keep your legs straight and slowly reach forward to touch the furthest point of the ruler. Hold this position for 2 seconds, then measure and record the distance. Do this three times and record the best score.

Remember that the guidelines for test scores are approximate, and individual flexibility levels may vary. Focusing on your progress and improvements is essential, rather than just comparing yourself to others.

The Shoulder Flexibility Test




This test checks the range of motion in your shoulders, which is essential for various daily activities. To perform the test, reach one hand over your shoulder and down your back while reaching the other hand up your lower back.3 Try to touch or overlap your fingers. You have good shoulder flexibility if you can touch or overlap your fingers. You have fair flexibility if fingertips are not touching but are less than 2 inches (5 cm) apart. You can check the guidance video on how to perform this test here.

However, variations in arms and finger length can make comparisons between individuals misleading, so it is always better to compare your results over time to your own reference level.

The Trunk Rotation Test

The seated trunk rotation test helps find out how much your middle and lower back can rotate from side to side. This test assesses your spinal flexibility, which is crucial for maintaining good posture and preventing back pain.

To perform this test, sit with your knees and feet together and your back straight. Hold a stick or dowel behind your neck with your arms. Rotate your upper body to the right and left as far as you can. Look for symmetry or similarity on both sides. The stick helps measure how much you can rotate, and 45 degrees is considered a normal range of motion.4 You can check the video of how to perform the test here.

How to Improve Your Flexibility?


Now that you know how to evaluate your flexibility, let’s look at ways to improve it.

First and foremost, stretch regularly. Incorporate both dynamic and static stretching into your routine. Dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and arm circles, are best done before exercise to prepare your muscles. Static stretches, like hamstring stretches and shoulder stretches, should be performed after exercise to increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.

It’s important to stretch all the major muscle groups regularly. To get the most benefits, try to increase your flexibility in both your upper and lower body.

Another way of improving your flexibility is yoga. Yoga is a fantastic way to increase flexibility, strength, and balance. It combines stretching, strengthening, and relaxation techniques that can help you improve your flexibility over time. Research has shown that regular yoga practice can lead to significant improvements in flexibility and other health benefits.5 6 Some yoga exercises, or asanas, are specifically directed at improving flexibility.

It’s important to be consistent. As with any fitness goal, consistency is key to improving your flexibility. Commit to working on your flexibility every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Over time, you’ll notice a difference in how your body feels and moves.


Recap and final thoughts

As we’ve explored in this article, flexibility plays a vital role in our overall health and longevity. By understanding its importance and regularly assessing your flexibility, you can make informed decisions to improve and maintain it throughout your life.

It’s never too late to start prioritizing your flexibility. By taking small, consistent steps and incorporating the tips provided in this article, you can significantly improve flexibility over time.


References

  1. Stathokostas L, McDonald MW, Little RM, Paterson DH. Flexibility of older adults aged 55-86 years and the influence of physical activity. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:743843. doi: 10.1155/2013/743843. Epub 2013 Jun 19. PMID: 23862064; PMCID: PMC3703899. PubMed Source
  2. Mayorga-Vega D, Merino-Marban R, Viciana J. Criterion-Related Validity of Sit-and-Reach Tests for Estimating Hamstring and Lumbar Extensibility: a Meta-Analysis. J Sports Sci Med. 2014 Jan 20;13(1):1-14. PMID: 24570599; PMCID: PMC3918544. PubMed Source
  3. Cook G, Burton L, Hoogenboom BJ, Voight M. Functional movement screening: the use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function-part 2. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Aug;9(4):549-63. PMID: 25133083; PMCID: PMC4127517. PubMed Source
  4. Hoogenboom BJ, Voight ML. ROLLING REVISITED: USING ROLLING TO ASSESS AND TREAT NEUROMUSCULAR CONTROL AND COORDINATION OF THE CORE AND EXTREMITIES OF ATHLETES. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov;10(6):787-802. PMID: 26618059; PMCID: PMC4637914. PubMed Source
  5. Gothe NP, McAuley E. Yoga Is as Good as Stretching-Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016 Mar;71(3):406-11. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glv127. Epub 2015 Aug 22. PMID: 26297940; PMCID: PMC5864160. PubMed Source
  6. Ross A, Thomas S. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jan;16(1):3-12. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0044. PMID: 20105062. PubMed Source
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