Assessing Flexibility: Techniques, Resources & Self-Assessment

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson, we assess flexibility and discuss resources and techniques for doing so. We also review methodologies for self-assessment. We elaborate on seven of the most popular tests that are available to measure flexibility.

Assessing Flexibility

Have you ever watched an Olympic gymnast and marveled as she stretched her body like a pretzel and performed amazing feats of athleticism? Many of us would like to be more flexible, but we do not quite know how to measure our progress. In this lesson, you will learn techniques and resources to assess your flexibility, including methods of self-assessment.

Gymnast Olga Korbut
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Flexibility Defined

Flexibility is the quality of being pliant and able to bend without breaking. It is also the ability to move body parts through a range of motions.

Why Measure Flexibility?

Here is an interesting and surprising fact. There is no general test to measure total body flexibility. This is due to the makeup of the human body. In addition to the human trunk, the arms and legs protrude from the sides with the head and neck moving in different directions as well. Thus, flexibility must be measured in parts, breaking tests down into upper and lower body tests. In fact, flexibility is for the most part joint specific, so you could be very flexible in your shoulder region and not at all flexible in your hips or vice-versa, which is a common complaint of golfers. One reason to measure flexibility is that flexibility is literally required for efficient body movement. Secondly, flexibility may help prevent and reduce pain in regions such as the dreaded lower back. Third, being flexible may help prevent a serious injury. Part of the reason for the latter is that maintaining flexibility can help the athlete better maintain balance since there is a connection between the two.

Factors Affecting Flexibility

Gender

Who hasn't been amazed watching the television series, Survivor, as the women often defeat the men in physical challenges involving muscular flexibility and muscular endurance? As a general rule, women have been considered to be more flexible than men, although there are some exceptions. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, women usually have longer, leaner muscles than men, and secondly, their muscles tend to be more elastic.

Age

Most people lose flexibility as they age. One reason is because older people often tend to exercise less per day, and another reason is due to a natural loss of soft tissue elasticity as we age.

Posture

So many of us are hunched over laptops or peering down at handhelds playing 'Pokemon Go' that our flexibility is actually diminished.

Temperature

Have you ever played Frisbee on the beach and felt limber and loose or sat in the stands during a cold football game and felt frozen stiff? There's science behind this. Warming a joint to 113 degrees Fahrenheit increases ROM (range of movement) by 20 percent while cooling the same joint to 65 degrees Fahrenheit decreases ROM by up to 20 percent.

Tests

The Sit and Reach Test

The sit and reach test may be the most well-known method of assessing lower body flexibility. The subject sits on the floor with legs extended and bends forward from the waist very slowly and as far as possible. A yardstick is then used to measure the distance. There are many variations of this test, but the important factor is that the subject does the measurement consistently about once a month so that the results can be compared over time.

Accuflex III Shoulder Rotation Test

This test involves an aluminum bar placed at about head height behind the subject. The arms are reached back behind the body and up at roughly a forty-five degree angle to grab the bar. Afterward, a measurement is taken with built-in calipers that are sold with the bar. A similar test can be done by simply using a towel, but it is much tougher to get an accurate reading without the calipers. Therefore, using this method would mostly an estimate.

Trunk Rotation Test

This test only requires a pencil and a wall and measures both shoulder and trunk flexibility. First, the subject marks a vertical line on a wall. Next, the subject stands at arms length from the wall in front of the line with his back against the wall. He raises his arms up and out parallel to the floor, sort of like Frankenstein, and then rotates to the right, touching the wall without moving his feet. He marks that spot with a pencil. Last, the subject repeats these steps to the left and again marks the wall.

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