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Can You Do It? Sit and Reach Test

Try this test to see how flexible you are - and how to get better!

You might think you’d know whether you’re physically flexible or not. But flexibility can differ throughout the body. Among the places where it really counts are the hamstrings and lower back because tightness in these muscles can affect your posture and set you up for back pain. And research suggests that people ages 40 and older who have poor trunk flexibility are more likely to have arterial stiffness, which could increase their risk of heart disease.

“The more you sit, the tighter and weaker these areas become,” says Tom Holland, M.S., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist based in Darien, Connecticut, and author of The Micro-Workout Plan. By contrast, having flexibility in these areas “can help with injury prevention and fall prevention,” Holland adds.

The sit and reach test, which has been around since 1952, does a good job of assessing hamstring and lower-back flexibility. “You probably did this test when you were a kid or if you were a high-level athlete but you may not have done this in years,” Holland says. “It’s such a simple test and it has predictive value.”

The Move: Sit and reach test

Spend three minutes warming up with an aerobic activity such as walking, doing jumping jacks or riding a stationary bike. Then, stretch your hamstrings by placing your right heel on the floor with your toes up and reaching for your toes; repeat on the left side.

Once you’re ready to do the home version of the sit and reach test, have a tape measure handy. Take off your shoes and socks, and sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your feet about six inches apart. Place the tape measure between your legs with the end toward your crotch and the 15-inch mark lined up with your heels.

Stack your hands on top of each other, hinge at the hips, exhale and reach forward as far as you can. At the point of your greatest reach, hold the position for two seconds and note where your fingertips are on the tape measure.

Check out the video below to see the test in action:

How’d you do?

If your fingertips reached to 12 inches or less, you’re pretty inflexible. If your fingertips reached between 13 and 19 inches, that’s good. And if you reached 20 inches or farther, that’s great.

Keep in mind: This scale is for women ages 40 and older. “In general, men have less flexibility on this,” Holland says.

To Increase the challenge of the sit and reach test

If you did well on the sit and reach test, you can try to improve your reach a bit more—but don’t overdo it. “There’s a sweet spot between being flexible but not too flexible,” Holland says.

With hypermobility, you may be susceptible to injuries. In that case, “it’s important to strengthen the muscles around the joints by doing planks, bridges, squats, and lunges, to create stability,” Holland says.

If you struggled . . .

Don’t worry about it; just work on improving your flexibility. “Yoga, Pilates and dance classes will improve your flexibility,” Holland says. Also, take stretching breaks throughout the day, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting.

To build your flexibility

woman stretching; sit and reach test

If you’re looking to improve your flexibility, consider these simple stretches:

  • Sit on the floor with your right leg extended in front of you; bend your left knee and place your left foot against your right inner thigh. Reach forward as far as you can and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Stand in front of a bench and prop one foot on the bench; hinge forward at the hips until you feel a good stretch in the back of that leg. Hold it for 20-30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Lie on your back on the floor. Extend your left leg, lift your right foot, bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle, bringing that thigh toward your chest; place your hands around your right thigh and slowly straighten your leg toward the ceiling as much as you can. Release it back to the bent position. Do 10 reps. Then, switch legs.

The bottom line

“Muscles get tighter and shorter as we get older,” Holland says. “You want your joints to move freely through a full range of motion. Taking regular stretching breaks is a great way to preserve that.” In fact, research has found that a single bout of stretching can lead to small improvements in range of motion for the sit and reach test and the hamstrings.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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