How Flexible Are You? 5 Useful Ways to Test if You Need to Stretch
How Flexible Should You Be?
Everyone could agree that being inflexible sucks.
Not only do you struggle to do the activities you enjoy, but any minor physical activity can lead to discomfort and pain.
But it goes beyond that.
So many people don't even have enough flexibility to perform normal everyday tasks- and they don't even know it.
Fortunately, there are a few simple tests that you can perform to check to see if you have enough mobility for everyday living and for physical activity.
You don't have to have insane levels of flexibility like you see on TV or The Guinness Book of World Records, you just need to be able to accomplish these 5 positions.
In Part 1 of the WCT Stretching Series, When is Stretching Necessary, and When is it a Waste of Time we discuss what stretching is, and what it is good for. Quite honestly it can be a waste of time for some people. If you haven't read that article yet, read that one first.
This post is going to cover:
How to Test Flexibility of Multiple Joints
5 Flexibility Tests including the Hips, The Hamstrings, The Shoulders and The Ankles
Let's get started...
*In the previous post, we discuss the difference between flexibility and mobility. For the sake of simplicity, we will use them interchangeably in this post because they are very closely related to one another.
Am I Flexible Enough for Squats?
Everyone should be able to perform a squat. It is one of the most fundamental human movement patterns next to walking.
We will determine if you are flexible enough to squat by looking at your ability to flex your hips in a strong and stable position.
Why is Squatting Important?
Each time that you sit down and stand back up you are squatting. Each time you bend your knees to tie your shoe, or to get something from the ground, you are performing a squat.
Unfortunately, so many people have lost the ability to perform this basic human pattern from inadequate flexibility.
If you are not flexible enough to achieve a proper squat position, then you are significantly increasing your risk of injury to your knees, your hips and even your back.
What Does a Proper Squat Look Like?
Here is the position that you need to be able to achieve.
Common Squat Mistakes/ Signs That You Lack Hip Mobility for Squats
Back: Your spine must be neutral. Any rounding or overextension of your spine is not optimal and can lead to back problems. If you cannot achieve this position, you may lack Thoracic Spine Flexibility.
Hips: Your hips crease should be below the top of your knee. If you cannot achieve this position, you may lack Hip Flexibility.
Knees: Your knees should be pointing outwards and be in line with your toes. If you cannot achieve this position, you may lack Hip Flexibility.
Ankles: You should be able to keep your ankles flat on the floor. If your heels come up off the ground, you may lack Ankle Flexibility.
Are My Hamstrings Tight?
The deadlift is another pattern that we must all be able to master. It is very similar to a squat, but it measures your hamstring flexibility in conjunction with your hip flexibility.
Most people think that being able to touch your toes is a good way to measure your hamstring flexibility.
PLEASE STOP DOING THIS STRETCH.
Most people do it completely wrong and just place their spine in a compromising position.
I will show you the correct way to perform this stretch, and it shows you if you are flexible enough to perform deadlifts.
Why Are Deadlifts Important?
Adequate hamstring flexibility is what will allow us to perform the deadlift.
Deadlifts teach us how to maintain a braced, neutral spine when picking up something heavy from the floor.
People often break their backs when lifting stuff because they do not know how to perform a proper deadlift.
Can You Pass This Hamstring Flexibility Test?
Signs That You Lack Hamstring Flexibility
Back: Your back must remain flat. Ideally, your back should be parallel to the floor. Any rounding of the back is not optimal in any way. Rounding the back creates an artificial appearance that you have more hamstring flexibility and allows you to touch your toes.
Hips: Your hips should be flexed at a 90 degree angle.
Knees: You can have a very slight bend in the knee.
Inability to maintain this position indicates a lack flexibility in the hamstrings.
Are Your Hips Flexible?
Another demonstration of adequate hip flexibility is the ability to get into a lunge pattern.
The lunge shows that you have appropriate hip extension and side to side separation.
Why Are Lunges Important?
Being able to perform a lunge is important because it is a close representation of several everyday movements.
Every time you run, you are performing a lunge pattern.
Every time you go up stairs, you are performing a lunge pattern.
And of course, every time you kneel, you are performing a lunge.
What Does a Correct Lunge Look Like?
Common Lunge Mistakes
Front Knee: Your front shin should be as vertical as possible and your knee should be perfectly aligned with your foot. Do not allow any inwards collapse of the knee.
Back Knee: You back knee should be positioned directly underneath your hip or slightly behind your hip AND directly behind you. If you cannot achieve this position without collapsing at the spine or letting your back knee flail outwards, you may be missing hip flexibility.
Are Your Shoulders Flexible?
Having adequate shoulder flexibility is paramount to maintaining a normal healthy shoulder joint.
We determine shoulder flexibility by looking at your ability to raise your arms directly over your head.
Why is Shoulder Flexibility Important?
You need shoulder flexibility to be able to reach overhead into shelves and cabinets, to hang from a bar or a ledge, and to throw a ball.
You may be thinking..
"Who cares? So what if I can't reach overhead properly or throw a ball."
Every suboptimal body position that you express could have many negative consequences. This is how you develop arthritis, pain, injuries and the need for orthopedic surgery.
Can You Pass This Shoulder Mobility Test?
Signs That You Lack Shoulder Mobility
Elbows: Your elbows should be locked out overhead. If your elbows are bent, you may lack tricep flexibility.
Hands: Your thumbs should be facing backward. This places your shoulder is an externally rotated position. if you cannot keep your arms directly overhead with your thumbs facing backwards, you may lack shoulder flexion and rotation flexibility
Back: Your back must remain neutral. If you arch/overextend your back, you are artificially creating the appearance that your shoulders are more flexible than they are.
Are Your Calves Tight?
There is a large portion of the population that have tight calves. Tight calves are detrimental to your fitness because they destroy your ankle flexibility.
You’re probably wondering... “What the heck do my ankles have to do with anything?”
They have a lot to do with everything.
Your body is one machine. If one thing breaks or doesn’t function properly, it will cause a chain reaction and force other parts to compensate.
Why is Ankle Flexibility Important?
If you do not have proper ankle flexibility, it will travel up the chain and not allow optimal positioning of your knee, which ultimately affects the positioning of your hip and so on and so forth.
Also as we described above, you need to have sufficient ankle mobility just to be able to perform the squat correctly.
If you completely disregard this, and you continue to move with poor positioning, I knew a few orthopedic surgeons who are happy to give you a knee replacement in a few years.
Can You Pass This Ankle Mobility Test?
I'll be the first to admit that this position is very difficult to achieve. If you can do it, you have complete hip flexion range of motion and ankle range of motion.
Signs That You Have Poor Ankle Mobility
Feet: You must be able to keep your feet flat on the ground. If your heel lifts off the ground, you lack ankle mobility.
Do I Need To Stretch?
If you can achieve all 5 of these positions adequately, then you may not need to stretch.
If you have any glaring faults that were mentioned above, chances are you lack the flexibility to perform these 5 Mobility Drills and can benefit from stretching.
In the next post of this series, we will go over flexibility exercises to improve all of the positions demonstrated above.
Don't forget, the best time to stretch is when your muscles are already warm, such as after a workout or after a warm shower before bed.
Do you enjoy comparing yourself to these standards? Check out You Probably Have Bad Posture- Here's How to Tell, to run a few more diagnostic tests on yourself to see how your posture stacks up.
Which of these 5 positions were you not able to accomplish? Did you have adequate mobility in all 5 of them?
Comment below and let us know.
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