Being inflexible sucks.
Not only do you struggle to do the activities you enjoy, but minor physical activity can lead to discomfort and pain.
But it goes beyond that.
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.
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.
How Flexible Should You Be?
You should be flexible enough to achieve:
- A deep squat with proper form
- A 90 degree bend at the hips with a flat back and relatively straight knees
- A full range of motion lunge
- An full overhead reach without arching your back
- Full knee flexion with your ankles flat on the floor.
Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of muscle strains and injuries whenever you do any type of exercise.
Let’s see how many you can do.
Position #1: Are You Flexible Enough for Squats?
Everyone should be able to perform a squat.
It is the second most fundamental human movement pattern after walking.
If you cannot perform a squat correctly, then you will have a lot of trouble taking care of yourself in the future.
You are flexible enough to squat if you can flex your hips in a strong and stable position while maintaining a neutral spine.
Why is It necessary To Have The Flexibility to Squat?
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, many people have lost the ability to perform this basic human pattern from inadequate flexibility.
Take a look at any kid playing in the park. They can achieve a full range of motion perfect squat. It’s your job to recreate that pattern.
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.
Can You Pass This Squat Flexibility Test?
Here is the position that you need to be able to achieve.
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 pain. If you cannot maintain a neutral spine, you may lack Thoracic Spine Flexibility, or Hip Flexibility.
- Hips: You should be able to squat below parallel. This means that your hips crease should be below the top of your knee. If you cannot achieve this position, you may lack Hip Flexibility or Ankle Flexibility.
- Knees: Your knees should be pointing forward and be in line with your toes. Do not let your knees cave inwards (valgus position). If you cannot achieve this position, you may lack Hip Flexibility or Glute Strengh.
- Ankles: You should be able to keep your ankles flat on the floor. If your heels come up off the ground at the bottom of the squat, you may lack Ankle Flexibility.
Position #2: Are Your Hamstrings Tight?
The hip hinge is another pattern that you must master. It is very similar to a squat, but it measures your hamstring flexibility in conjunction with your hip flexibility.
Many people think that being able to touch their toes is a good way to measure your hamstring flexibility.
It goes beyond just being able to touch your toes.
I will show you the correct way to perform this stretch, and it shows you if you are flexible enough to perform hip hinge exercises such as deadlifts.
Why Is It Necessary To Have The Flexibility To Hip Hinge?
Adequate hamstring flexibility is what will allow us to perform one of the most important exercises of all time, the deadlift.
Deadlifts teach us how to maintain a braced, neutral spine when picking up something heavy from the floor.
Have you ever seen someone who pulls out their back from lifting everyday objects? People often injure themselves in these scenarios 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 than you actually do. This is why the bend down and touch your toe stretch is useless. All you are measuring is how much rounding you can obtain in your back. If you cannot keep your back straight, you lack Hamstring Flexibility.
- Hips: Your hips should be flexed at a 90 degree angle. If you cannot achieve at least a 90 degree angle, you probably lack Hamstring Flexibility.
- Knees: It is okay to have a very slight bend in the knee. Keeping your knees completely locked throughout this test could put unnecessary strain on your knee joints.
Position #3: Are Your Hips Flexible?
Another demonstration of adequate lower body flexibility is the ability to separate your hips and get into a lunge pattern.
The lunge shows that you have appropriate hip extension and side-to-side separation.
Why Is It Necessary To Have The Flexibility To Perform a Lunge?
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.
It would be nice if everything we did in this world involved both of our limbs simultaneously, but the vast majority of our everyday movements involves just one leg.
Can You Pass The Lunge Flexibility Test?
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: Your back knee should be positioned directly underneath your hip or slightly behind your hip AND directly behind your body. Do not let your back leg deviate laterally (i.e we should not see the back foot if looking from the front view). If you cannot achieve this position without collapsing at the spine or letting your back knee flail outwards, you may be missing Hip Extension and Flexibility.
Pelvis: Your pelvis should be neutral. Do not let your lower back arch and keep your glutes engaged.
Torso: You should be able to maintain a straight torso. If you feel a lot of tension in your hip and you can’t maintain an upright upper body, you likely have tight hip flexors
*Note: It is not uncommon to have an imbalance between your left leg and right leg.
Position #4: How Flexible Are Your Shoulders?
Having adequate shoulder flexibility is paramount to maintaining a normal healthy shoulder joint.
This is particularly true for individuals who play any overhead sports such as baseball or tennis.
We determine shoulder flexibility by looking at your ability to raise your arms directly over your head.
Why is It Necessary To Have Adequate Shoulder Flexibility?
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 Shoulder Flexibility, and/or Thoracic Flexibility.
Hands: Your thumbs should be facing backward. This places your shoulder in an externally rotated position. if you cannot keep your arms directly overhead with your thumbs facing backward, 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.
Position #5: Are Your Ankles Flexible?
There is a large portion of the population that has 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?
Your ankles 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 It Necessary To Have Adequate Ankle Flexibility?
If you do not have proper ankle flexibility, it will travel up the chain. Poor ankle mobility will not allow optimal positioning of your knee, which ultimately affects the positioning of your hip and so on and so forth.
In addition, many of the lower leg injuries we see in runners can be traced back to poor flexibility of the ankles.
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, knee flexion, and ankle flexion range of motion.
Signs That You Have Poor Ankle Mobility
Feet: You must be able to keep your feet flat on the ground and in contact. If your heel lifts off the ground, you have a lack of flexibility at the ankle joint.
Back: It is okay to let your back round a bit in this exercise. The key is to isolate the ankles.
*Note: You will likely have a tighter ankle. My right ankle is less flexible than the left side.
Do you need a daily routine?
Do You 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.
I’m glad you asked. In the next post, 9 Incredible Stretches To Improve Flexibility Fast, we go over the highest yield stretches you can use to start mobilizing your connective tissue.
The best part is, you can use these stretches for static stretching or dynamic stretching.
Always remember, the best time to stretch is when your muscles are already warm, such as after a workout or after a warm shower before bed.
Is It Good To Be Flexible?
If you enjoy being physically active, then it is good to have some baseline level of flexibility for overall health. Maintaining some degree of flexibility is even more important as you age, as older adults naturally lose their ability to do certain activities of daily living.
Focus on the major muscle groups that are tight in most people:
- the hips
- the shoulders
- the hamstrings
- the back
The Bottom Line On How Flexible You Should Be
The only reason why you have a skeletal system in your body is so that you can move.
Unfortunately, we have created a society that rewards immobility, as we are stuck behind our desks, behind the wheel of a car, or on a couch watching television.
Disregarding the natural human patterns that were given to you may seem inconsequential now, but it is the cause of many unexpected problems in our musculoskeletal system.
Determine where you lack flexibility, and get to work on those muscle tissues.
Now we turn it over to you.
Did you have adequate mobility in all 5 of them?
If not, which of these 5 positions were you not able to accomplish?
Any other mobility tests you would like to add to this list?
Comment below and let us know.
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.
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.