One of the most common questions I get is “Hey Nick, do I need to stretch?”
“Well, it depends. I need to see how you move a little bit,” is always my answer.
As a personal trainer who trains people almost everyday of the week, I get to see a huge variation in the way people are built and how they move their bodies. When you have worked with enough people, patterns start to emerge. Give me 30 seconds to see how someone stands and walks around and I can normally tell what’s going on in their body.
Today, I’ll share a few of the movement tests that I use everyday – ones that you can do right now to help answer that question for yourself – Do YOU need to stretch? Is your stiffness putting you at greater risk for injury?
Read more to find out.
Why Does Knowing Your Flexibility Matter?
You are built to move your body well. Whether that means running or throwing or jumping or lifting or dancing – natural movement is part of being a human being. But when you sit in unnatural positions all day long or when you hunch over at a computer, the body takes shortcuts to compensate and movement becomes limited. Over time, tissues and muscles get stiff. Joints don’t move as well. You might develop pain or discomfort. Or maybe you just avoid certain positions altogether. Do this for long enough and it becomes more and more difficult to move well.
If you’re reading this blog, we’re assuming you want to get lean, be strong and live a fit, healthy lifestyle . That’s what we’re all about. Life’s meant for living isn’t it?! And with a strong and lean body that moves well, you can revel in movement and truly love the way you move. You can truly become alive.
So that is why it matters. Don’t let stiffness get in the way of living the life you are meant to live.
Step 1: Awareness
The first step is always a bit of awareness. How well do you move your body right now?
At one end, you have people (more guys than girls fit this category) who are very stiff and inflexible(see Brad below). At the other end, you have people who are super loose, very flexible, and bendy (see Sally below). While some of this certainly depends on your genetics, you do have the ability to make significant change from where you are right now.
As I mentioned, most guys will have less flexibility than women, but don’t assume anything. Take the test below to find out your flexibility.
Before we get to the test, here here the 2 most common patterns that I normally see.
Brad is a strong dude who enjoys lifting weights. He’s committed and shows up to the gym and puts in his time with the iron. He trains hard and has been doing so for a little while. But he’s got some nagging issues that wont go away. His shoulder is cranky but he powers through his workouts.
His hips are tight as hell, but he doesn’t notice it because he doesn’t put himself in positions where he has to use his hip mobility. He’s a little achey when he gets up off the couch, but he thinks that this is normal. He’s strong as heck and is very popular when anyone in the neighborhood needs a hand moving a couch. Brad is what we call a stiff dude.
At the other end of spectrum, we have supple Sally.
Sally loves her yoga and spends a good amount of her workout time doing some variation of a sun salutation. She’s bendy, limber, and fluid. She’s loves her back bends and downward dogs, but try to get her to do a push-up without arching her lower back, and forget about it, she has no chance. Or ask her to lift any considerable weight or help with that 40 lb suitcase and she’s of little help.
She has great mobility and can sit in a deep squat with her butt inches from the ground for days. Her hypermobility is actually a serious risk that she has to manage. She’s at high risk of pulling a muscle or injuring a joint because of it.
So, from these examples, doing the same workout for both Bret and Sally would make absolutely zero sense.
Brad needs mobility work. He should stretch. He needs to move a little better, get his tissues unstuck so he can move more efficiently. He probably should lift a little lighter and make sure he’s got perfect form before he hurts himself. The body is resilient as hell, but if you push for long enough in bad positions, something will give. It’s normally a knee or shoulder injury that happens with someone like Brad.
And for Sally, a good dose of strength training would most likely do her body good and create the stability she desperately needs. She wouldn’t have to work on any mobility or stretching at all. It could actually do her more harm than good. She has to work on controlling all that mobility in her body. She needs to focus on training stability so that her hypermobility doesn’t get her hurt.
So, as you can see from these extreme examples, Brad would benefit greatly from stretching while Sally would benefit from strength training.
OK, it’s time for the test. Most likely you’re somewhere in between Brad and Sally, but’s let’s find out.
1-Minute Test To See How Stiff or Supple You Are
This test is not meant to diagnose or treat any injury, it will simply give you a sense of where you are on the spectrum of stiffness to suppleness.
Directions: There are 5 movements in this test. Keep track of your score and add them up to get a final number. See below scoring system.
1) Toe Touch
Can you touch your toes while maintaining straight legs?
- 1 for yes
- -1 for no
2) Shoulder Mobility
Reach one arm above your head while you reach on the other up your back.
Do your hands touch? Make sure you test both sides and add points together.
- 1 for yes
- 0 for no
3) Thumb Mobility
Can you bend you thumb back to touch your wrist?
- 2 for yes
- 0 for no
4) Elbow Mobility
When you straighten you arm, does your elbow hyperextend?
- 2 for yes
- 0 for no
5) Squat Depth
Can you squat with your butt below your knees while maintaining a straight back and heels on the ground? A slight rounding of the back is OK. Make sure to test barefoot so you get a true measure of your ankle mobility.
- 2 for yes
- 0 for no
-3 – 0
You are stiff. You and the Tin-man should hang out(don’t worry I was here not too long ago). You should prioritize mobility work, you should most definitely stretch as often as possible and get involved in some yoga. Make love to the foam roller and attack your weak spots every day.
You are on the stiff side, but in the acceptable range. I would still do some mobility work and stretching a few times a week to try and improve a little bit.
You are on the more supple side. You can most likely keep on doing on what you’re doing. This is the ideal realistic target for most of you reading this post.
Congrats! You are in a small, special category. For you, I would completely avoid static stretching and focus instead on strength training.
How Did You Do?
I normally find that what’s a little uncomfortable for you is probably what you should be doing. That means more yoga for the stronger dude and some more strength training for all the yogis out there.
The goal is of course to be strong and supple, or as we’re written about before –balancing strength and flexibility with deadlifts and downward dogs.
If you wanted to take the assessment to the next level, go to your local gym and ask a personal trainer if they are FMS certified. Getting an FMS – Functional Movement Screen – will give you an in-depth look into how well you move. You can also check out their website to see if there is someone certified in your area. This is will give you a definitive answer. It will pinpoint areas of weakness that should be addressed.
As a level 2 FMS specialist myself, it’s been a great tool that I’ve been using with clients to help them move better.
I have a whole series coming out soon with exercises designed specifically for where you fall on the stiffness / suppleness continuum. But for now, you have step 1 down which is the most important part! I hope you enjoyed this test.