What You Need to Know About Flexibility
Flexibility is about more than how bendy you are. It determines how far your joints can move without causing discomfort. If the average person maintains limber and strong muscles, they should be able to move their joints comfortably and without restriction. Let’s discuss everything you should know about flexibility, including how professional stretching can help you maintain it as you age.
Flexibility by Age
As you may know, you gradually lose flexibility as you get older. This is a normal part of the aging process and why health professionals stress the importance of regular stretching when you’re younger.
Take a look at how your flexibility can vary based on what stage you are at in life.
Babies are born with about 300 squishy bones to help them come out of the womb. Because their skeleton is small and flexible, babies can be quite bendy. Most of their bones are made of cartilage that will harden and fuse over time, creating 206 bones in young adulthood.
Because a baby’s bones are limber and everything is still forming, you should be careful not to put too much pressure on their joints. This can cause them to overextend and make them more prone to sprains, dislocations, and other soft tissue injuries. Otherwise, playing and exercising are great for helping babies build strength and preventing these concerns.
Around the age of 6, children start sitting at desks more regularly, which can force the hamstrings into a tight and shortened position. They might also spend long hours in front of the TV or computer. A child’s bones are still growing quickly, and growth spurts may temporarily decrease muscle length and flexibility. If a child doesn’t move regularly, they may deal with poor flexibility when they get older.
The teen years are one of the best times for athletic development since your body starts ramping up its capacity to build muscle at around 14. Most are even encouraged to begin playing sports or recreational activities for school. Teenagers, particularly boys, can also see a rapid loss of flexibility starting at 14.
Regular stretching in your teen years is important, especially if you play sports. About 30% of teens quit sports because of an injury, causing their growing adult bodies to become less active.
In your young adult years, you start losing water in your tissues and intervertebral discs, resulting in stiffer joints and a loss of elasticity in the muscles and tendons. At this stage in your life, developing a consistent static and dynamic stretching routine is important to help you maintain flexibility and range of motion as you get into your older years.
Flexibility comes naturally when you’re a child. In your adult years, you must start taking responsibility to maintain and improve it. Your cartilage should have fully grown out and become replaced by bone by the time you’re 25.
Your body may begin to slow down at this point in your life, making everyday activities feel more strenuous. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, this situation only becomes worse. Flexibility continues to decrease in your 40s, starting with the shoulders and trunk more than the knees and elbows.
People usually lose between 25% to 30% of overall flexibility by the time they’re 70. This decline happens because of natural wear and tear of the joints and tendons. You also lose elastin content that gives your connective tissue collagen fibers.
Testing Your Flexibility
Could your flexibility and range of motion be better? There are several flexibility tests available to assess this. Many require someone to assist you or take measurements with a ruler or yardstick.
Here are a few flexibility tests to try and see where you are with your range of motion:
Sit and Reach
This simple flexibility text can be done anywhere. It’s a composite test that measures multiple joint movements in the hamstrings and lower back. Sit-and-reach boxes are available, but you can also use a yardstick and a step box if you don’t have one.
You’ll start by sitting barefoot on the floor with your legs outstretched. Press the soles of your feet against the box, keeping your knees locked and pressed flat to the floor. Reach forward as far as you can with your palms facing downwards without bouncing or jerking. Adequate flexibility is being able to reach your toes while keeping your legs straight.
This will test the flexibility of your hamstrings. Lying on your back is one of the best ways to test hamstring flexibility because it isolates those muscles. Standing up allows the hip flexors or spine to assist.
To do this flexibility test, you’ll lie on your back with your legs straight out. Lift one leg in the air and try to reach for your toes without lifting your back and head from the floor. Ideally, you should be able to touch your shin.
Spine and Neck
To test your spine and neck flexibility, you’ll start by being seated in a cross-legged position. You’ll then slowly rotate to one side and look behind you. You should ideally be able to turn 180 degrees, but those with tension in their neck from looking at a computer screen all day may be limited.
You can do this flexibility test at your desk, but make sure your hips and pelvis are facing forward and that your lower body doesn’t move while you rotate.
Toe touches are also common and easy to perform anywhere. This test aims to see how flexible your hamstring and lower back muscles are. You will need a ruler for this assessment.
Stand up barefoot with your feet slightly apart. Bend at the waist, slowly lean forward, and attempt to touch the ground with your fingertips without jerking or bouncing. You’ll then measure the distance between your fingertips and the floor. If you can touch the ground or reach farther, stand on a raised surface and measure how far past your toes your fingertips can go.
Lateral Side Bending
Lateral side bending measures your trunk flexibility. Stand up straight against the wall with your arms held against the sides of your body. Mark the level of your middle finger on each side, then slowly bend to the side as far as you can while keeping your back against the wall. Mark where your middle finger lands, and don’t forget to measure both sides.
Back Scratch Test
The back scratch test measures the general range of motion of your shoulders. You’ll need a ruler or yardstick and someone to assist you.
You’ll be standing during this stretch test. Place one hand behind your head and reach as far down the middle of your back as you can. Your palm should be touching your body, and your fingers should be straight. Next, place the other arm behind your back and reach up as far as you can.
Your fingertips will either touch, not connect, or overlap. Your assistant will use the ruler to measure the distance between the tips of your middle fingers if they don’t meet. The average distance in inches will vary for men and women and their ages.
Sitting and Rising Test
This assessment can help indicate your flexibility while testing your strength and balance. A Brazilian physician originally created it to determine the mortality of middle-aged to older people.
You’ll begin by standing barefoot on a surface that’s not slippery or crowded. Try to sit on the ground with as little support from your body as possible, including your hands, legs, thighs, knees, and forearms. Then try to lift yourself up without support. The ideal person can lower and lift themselves with little to no support.
To test the flexibility in your hip rotators, lie on your back. Put one foot on the ground while the opposite ankle rests on the knee that’s lifted. Lift your leg off the ground and reach for your hamstring or shin. Pull it closer to your chest until you feel tension on the outside of the hip.
If you can’t reach your hamstrings, your hips might be very tight.
What Happens When You Fail the Flexibility Tests?
If your results aren’t what you hoped for, it will benefit you to keep practicing those tests and incorporate a regular stretch routine to improve your range of motion. Many of these assessments also double as a good stretch, which can be deepened by a professional stretch practitioner.
You also want to start paying more attention to your body, including what hurts and which activities are more difficult to do because of tightness.
Can You Prevent the Natural Loss of Flexibility?
Even though reduced flexibility is inevitable as we age, you can certainly slow down the process. Doing all the right activities can keep your muscles limber and allow you to enjoy your favorite activities longer. Here’s what you can do to stay flexible as you get older:
Of course, stretching is crucial for maintaining flexibility! It’s good to warm up with dynamic stretching before doing physical activities or even to run errands. Even if you aren’t that active, you still want to incorporate a stretching routine in your day-to-day life to prevent your muscles from becoming too stiff. One of the best times to stretch is first thing in the morning.
People are becoming more sedentary, whether it’s because of an office job or from watching TV all day. To earn and maintain your flexibility, it’s crucial to remain as active as possible. Being still for too long will cause your muscles to stiffen, impacting your flexibility.
You don’t need to be at the gym every day to stay active. Taking a five-minute walk every so often can also keep your muscles moving to prevent stiffness and soreness.
Correct Your Posture
If you slouch regularly, your upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles are continuously straining. This will result in stiffness and discomfort, making it more difficult to move the way you’re supposed to. An ideal posture involves a neutral spine with your shoulders back and your head straight.
You will find it much easier to maintain good flexibility when you age if you pay attention to your posture and correct it if needed.
Eat the Right Diet
A pro-inflammatory diet can impact flexibility by causing inflammation throughout the body. When this happens, your joints will ache more, making regular activities more difficult. To combat total body inflammation, you’ll want to consume more anti-inflammatory foods and beverages.
Here are some foods to include in your diet to fight inflammation:
- Fatty fish
- Leafy greens
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
Consider Professional Stretching
People don’t get the results they need if a limited range of motion prevents them from stretching correctly. If your body is tight, you unconsciously take an “easy way out” of a stretch to avoid discomfort. A professional stretch practitioner can help give you a more effective stretch.
You don’t necessarily have to be injured or require physical therapy to experience the benefits of an assisted stretch. Even professional athletes undergo this service to improve their physical performance.
What to Expect During a Professional Stretching Session
The thought of trying practitioner-assisted stretching might seem a bit nerve-wracking if you don’t know what to expect. You’ll be lying on a secure, comfortable table with patented straps. Your stretch practitioner will also encourage you to communicate your comfort for the duration of the session.
The straps included on the table will isolate the area for a more effective stretch. When you try to stretch one part of the body, some of the neighboring muscles will try to compensate, and you won’t get an effective stretch on the muscle you’re targeting. This is especially true if you’re already tight.
Benefits of Professional Stretching
Professional stretching can provide benefits for anyone, from athletes to office workers. Table stretching works with the nervous system to help you achieve optimal flexibility. Below are some of the other benefits you can expect:
- Muscle imbalance correction
- Stress relief
- Increased range of motion
- Relaxed muscles
- Enhanced physical skills
Ready to Improve Your Flexibility with Professional Stretching?
Don’t let your age prevent you from getting through the day ache-free. A professionally assisted stretch at Stretch Zone can help slow down the natural process of flexibility loss, allowing you to maintain a decent range of motion when you’re older. If you’re interested, look for a location near you and sign up for your first free session.