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Testing Your Flexibility - How Far Can You Stretch?

by Rachel Keller

Why Stretch?
Stretching is a natural relaxer that can provide relief from everyday muscle tension and stiffness. It is not only pleasurable, it can alleviate pain and potentially reduce the chance of injury. Good flexibility is crucial for proper posture. Stretching helps produce and keep lubricants between the connective tissue fibers, making one more flexible.

Being flexible means having the ability to use muscles and joints through their full range of motion. Stretching helps maintain your range of motion, making all physical activity easier to do. It increases flexibility by elongating the cells in your muscles fibers as you stretch. Even after returning to a resting position, the cells remain elongated, which allow for greater motion.

Stretching can help prevent injury. If you are flexible, you are less likely to be injured when your cold muscles undergo sudden jerky movements, as in trying to protect yourself in a fall.

Factors to consider when stretching
Stretching does have its risks. You should not feel pain, only a pulling sensation. If you force your body to stretch beyond its capabilities, muscles and tendons can tear. Proper stretching involves concentration and patience and must be done slowly. Never stretch beyond that slight feeling of discomfort and never bounce.

Stretching is so easy and relaxing, you can enjoy it even while at the office. Make certain your muscles are warmed up properly before stretching. If you are planning to do a full stretching workout, warm up by walking a little first and then stretch. Before any workout gradually warm up your muscles, stretch, and then do your routine. Stretching completely cold muscles can injure them.

Test your flexibility

Do you know how flexible you are right now? Here is a simple way to test the flexibility in the back of your legs and your lower back. Flexibility in these areas helps prevent lower back pain as well as back and leg injuries. This test comes from the Reader's Digest "Guide to Family Fitness" by Charles T. Kuntzleman (1986).

Remove shoes and socks and sit on the floor with your legs in front and feet touching the wall. Without bending your knees, slowly reach forward as far as you can, attempting to touch the wall as you bring your forehead to your knees. Do not jerk or bounce. Once you feel a tug, hold that position while you concentrate on relaxing your muscles. Stretch a bit farther, stopping when you feel a second tug. Hold for five seconds, noting how far you reached.

Don't feel discouraged if you can't reach the wall. It just means you need to do some flexibility exercises. Here are the ratings for the flexibility test:


palms flat against the wall


knuckles touch the wall


fingertips touch toes or wall


fingertips are one to three inches from toes


fingertips are four or more inches from toes

Some basic stretches:

Stretching is so simple that anyone can do it virtually anywhere. Once you realize the benefits and discover how fun stretching really is, you won't want to quit.

  • Before getting out of bed in the morning, stretch your legs and toes. After getting out of bed, stretch as high as you can.
  • Shrug your shoulders high and drop. Rotate your shoulders in clockwise and counterclockwise circles, as well.
  • Lift your arms as high over your head as possible and drop straight down at your sides.
  • Clasp your hands behind your back. Slowly bring your arms up. You can get more of a stretch by leaning your upper body slightly forward as you lift your arms.
  • A variation of the above is to grasp a towel between your hands behind your back. Have one arm high (over your shoulder) and the other arm lower.
  • Lift your right arm over your head and place your right hand between your shoulder blades. With your other hand gently push downward on your elbow. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch arms.
  • Put your right hand on your left elbow and gently pull your left arm across your body. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch arms.
  • This one can be done sitting or standing: Twist your upper body to the left a couple times and then to the right.
  • While you sit, slowly lift your leg (one at a time) until your leg is straight out. Hold for 15-20 seconds.
  • To stretch your ankles, make circles with your feet or try tracing the alphabet with your toes. Also, try standing on tiptoes.
  • Do standing push ups by leaning against the wall and pushing yourself away while keeping your feet still.
  • Stand on one foot (hold a wall or tree for support) while grabbing the other foot behind you (stretches the front thigh muscle).
  • You can do Kegel exercises and isometric exercises while at your office or nearly anywhere.

These are just a few of the many excellent stretching exercises. Find some stretching ones you enjoy and incorporate them into your routine.

' Rachel Keller - All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission

About the author: The mother of three young sons, Rachel Keller enjoys running, cycling, aerobics, strength training, and flexibility exercises. She races regularly, placing in her age group in nearly all her races. She has both a bachelor of science and a master's degree in education and has been published numerous times. For more of Rachel's work, please visit Rachel's Writings.


Stretching charts

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