Healing through flexibility

In the final post of our assessment series, we will describe how to assess your flexibility. When most people think of fitness, they think of training their cardiovascular system and muscular strength, but they often forget about the importance of improving flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility training helps to decrease the chance of muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions and overuse injuries. It should be a key component of all training programs. There are a number of tests you can perform to measure your upper and lower body flexibility.

Sit and Reach Test:
The sit and reach test measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.  This test is perhaps the most important flexibility test, as tightness in the lower back and hamstrings can help determine a person’s risk for future muscle pain and injury.

To perform this test, remove your shoes and sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Place the soles of your feet flat against a box with a height of about 30 centimetres. Your knees should be locked and pressed down into the floor. With your palms facing downwards and your hands on top of each other, reach forwards as far as possible. Hold the final position for one to two seconds while an assistant measures the distance to your toes (a negative measurement) or past your toes (a positive measurement). Use the best score of three attempts.

The score is recorded to the nearest centimetre as the distance reached by the hand. The table below assumes the level of the feet is the zero mark.

  Men (cm) Women (cm)
Excellent >17 >21
Good 6 to 16 11 to 20
Average 0 to 5 1 to 10
Fair -8 to -1 -7 to 0
Poor <-9 <-8

Shoulder Flexibility Test:
This test measures the flexibility of the shoulder joint, which is important for injury prevention in every day life as well as sports such as swimming and tennis. To perform the test, you will need either a towel or a stick. Hold the towel/stick with both hands wide apart and palms facing downwards. Lift the towel/stick over your head and behind your back, keeping the tension on the object throughout.

Continue repeating the test, moving the hands closer and closer together each time until the movement can no longer be completed. Measure the distance between your hands for your final successful attempt, and aim to reduce the measurement over time.

Scratch Test:
This test measures the shoulder joint’s range of motion.  To perform the assessment, stand with one hand behind the head and over the shoulder. Reach that hand as far down the middle of your back as possible, with your fingers pointing downwards. With the other hand, reach behind your back with your palm facing upward and reach upwards as far as possible attempting to touch or overlap the fingers of both hands.

If your fingers overlap, you have excellent shoulder flexibility. If your fingers can touch, that is considered ‘good’. An ‘average’ score is when your fingers are less than five centimetres apart, and anything more than that is considered poor.

To improve your flexibility, you must regularly stretch all the major muscle groups. Consider those muscles which are constantly in a shortened stage because of our lifestyles – a common example is the hip flexors, which are contracted when we sit for prolonged periods each day. Because the muscle is consistently short and moves in a pattern different from its intended function, inelastic connective tissue will form along this altered pattern and reduce the ability of the muscle to extend and move in its proper manner. Flexibility training is therefore essential to restore the normal extensibility of the muscle.

Posture is also an important part of movement and flexibility. Proper postural alignment allows optimum neuromuscular efficiency, which allows you to increase your strength and cardiovascular fitness.  Without this proper postural alignment, your body will begin to degenerate as muscular imbalances present themselves.

Muscular imbalances can be caused by a number of factors including postural stress, emotional duress, repetitive movement, cumulative trauma, poor training technique, lack of core strength and lack of neuromuscular control.

By ensuring each exercise session works on mobility at the start of the workout through dynamic stretches, and flexibility at the end of the session with static stretches, you will minimise the number of muscular imbalances and general tightness you suffer from.

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