In my recent articles I’ve discussed the importance of functional flexibility for performance and some of the common stretching pitfalls we all make. Today, I’ll go through five movements that will give you an idea of your functional flexibility in a few major areas. 
 
This movement list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start. Each position focuses on a different movement pattern that you need to perform at your best. Through these movements, you might come to understand it’s your ankle mobility that is affecting your squat or your hamstring flexibility that is hindering your back position during deadlifts. You might realize that your back pain is caused by tight hip flexors and hamstrings, or that the rotation in your shoulders is limited. Understanding these limitations can help you push past them to improve position and, ultimately, performance. 
 

Let’s Get Started 

Before you dive into this test, you’ll need to warm up. Below are some suggested warm-ups which will get the body warm without altering your movement pattern in any significant way. 
 
  • 400m run
  • 20 standing hip circles, 10 each direction
  • 5 arm circle, each side and forwards and backwards
  • 2 minutes jump rope
 
  • 100 jumping jacks
  • 20 lunges, alternating
  • 10 bear crawls
  • 5 arm circle, each side and forwards and backwards
  • 50 jumping jacks
 
  • 250m row
  • 10 donkey kicks
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 donkey kicks
  • 250m row
 
Here are a few tips before you get started with the assessments.
 
  1. You can start with any of the movements on this list. Just make sure you test both sides.
  2. The best way to perform this test is with a friend so he or she can compare your positions to the photos below and help guide you in the right direction. 
  3. For each movement, carefully follow the steps on how to properly execute the position. This will ensure a more accurate test. 
  4. You may repeat each movement, holding for 30 seconds, up to 3 times. On the third attempt, you can log your results. This will allow any stiffness from previous workouts to subside. 
  5. Each movement has a different set of questions for you to answer that will help guide you in a direction towards improving your mobility. 
  6. If you are injured in any of the areas below, skip that movement. 
 

Internal/External Rotation

Start seated on your shins. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and draw your elbow as far behind the back of the head as possible. Keep your right elbow where it is as you extend your left arm out to the left. Turn your thumb down and begin to reach around your lower back and up towards your right fingers. If touching your right finger tips is not possible, reset and grab a strap or band and start the process over again, this time holding onto the strap with your right hand. This will give you something to grab onto once you reach your left arm around. 
 
shoulder internal and external rotation
[All photos courtesy Stephanie Ring]
 
  1. Are you able to grab your finger tips? 
  2. Where do you feel this the most? In your triceps or the front of your left shoulder? 
  3. Is there any pain? If so, where? 
  4. When you perform the test on the other side, do you notice a difference between the two? 
 
Results: If you have trouble drawing your right elbow in towards the midline, you should focus on stretching your triceps and lats and using a foam roller on those areas 2-3 times a week. If drawing your left fingers up the back to reach for the right fingers is impossible or just feels tight, then the muscles of your rotator cuff are tight. You can use the movement you just performed to improve internal rotation. 
 

Spinal Rotation

Start on your back with your legs extended out in front. Draw your right knee into your chest. Shift your hips to the right as you draw your right knee over to the left. Extend your right arm out to the right. 
 
spinal rotation
 
  1. What are you feeling? 
  2. Do you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder or in your lower back? 
  3. When you perform the test on the other side, do you notice a difference between the two?
 
Results: Lack of spinal rotation can mean issues for the lower back and shoulders as they pick up the slack. We want the knee to get to ground, even if the shoulder lifts up. You will want to focus your attention on stretches that encourage twisting and extension like the one you just performed and on positions like upward-facing dog, which encourage spinal extension. 
 

Hamstring

Start on your back. Wrap a band or strap around the arch of your right foot and extend your leg. Keep your arms long and your shoulders relaxed. Drive your right heel up as you draw your shin towards your face. 
 
hamstring flexibility
 
  1. Can you straighten your leg?
  2. Is your leg vertical to your hips? 
  3. When you perform the test on the other side, do you notice a difference between the two?
 
Results: If your leg is not stacked vertically over the hip and at the same time your shin is not close to your face, you will need to spend time stretching your hamstrings, not just through static stretching but dynamic stretching as well. Movements like good mornings, inchworm, and bear crawls will encourage functional hamstring mobility and serve as a great warm up to almost any workout. 
 

Hip Flexor

Step your right foot forward and drop your back knee to the ground. Press down into your right big toe and hug your outer right hip in towards the midline. Soften your hips down. 
 
hip flexor mobility
 
  1. Where do you feel this stretch?
  2. Does it look as though there is a straight line from the bottom of the front knee to the top of the back knee, as seen in the photo? 
  3. When you perform the test on the other side, do you notice a difference between the two?
 
Results: This is a test of feel. Most athletes carry tightness in their hip flexors because of a combination of training and sitting. So regardless, always try to work the hip flexors into your new stretching routine. Stretches like this one are a great place to start. 
 

Ankle

Step your right foot forward and drop your back knee to the ground. Lay your torso on your thigh and scoot your back knee forward to allow your right knee to move forward of your right toes. Keep your right heel down. This test is best done without shoes. 
 
ankle mobility
 
  1. Can you get your front knee beyond the plane of your front toes? 
  2. Does the heel immediately come off the ground? 
  3. Do you feel a bigger stretch in your calf or your Achilles? 
  4. When you perform the test on the other side, do you notice a difference between the two?
 
Results: Ankle mobility is a large factor in improper squat mechanics. It is helpful to know where you’re feeling the tightness. If you feel a deep stretch in the calf muscle, then foam rolling and calf stretches post workout are recommended. If your ankle feels stuck, then you will want to focus on banded distraction stretches and stretching your ankles like the movement above. 
 

Now Keep It Up

Now that you have a better understanding of your mobility and flexibility in these key areas, it's time to do something about it. Check back in a few weeks for an article with stretches for these major issues. In the mean time, stretch well, stretch often and with purpose. 
 
How about some stability to go along with your mobility?
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