For the last month of 2019, we’re going to do some exercises to measure progress and set goals. Whether you’ve worked out a lot this year or you’re just starting, taking a specific benchmark now will help you appreciate your current and future progress. Today we’re starting with flexibility.

Let’s be clear about one thing, though: the point is to measure yourself against yourself, not to meet some arbitrary standard. (We had this talk yesterday about strength standards, remember?) If you’ve done these stretches before, you can compare to what you used to do. Our benchmarks later this month will cover other areas of fitness, like strength and endurance.

But the even bigger reason to do a benchmark is as a gift to your future self. If you work on your flexibility this coming year, in December you can do another test (or do them monthly, whatever floats your boat) and see how you’ve improved.

So, let’s try these. Before you start, remember that warmed-up muscles stretch farther than if you just tried the stretches cold, so consider doing these at the end of a workout. Make a note of it—whether you warmed up or not, and how—so you can do the same thing the next time you test.

Sit-and-reach, or a standing toe touch

If you’ve ever had a fitness assessment, by a personal trainer for example, you may have done the sit-and-reach test. You sit on the floor with your feet in front of you, then touch your toes while a box at your feet measures how far forward you’re able to reach.

You can recreate this at home by putting your feet against a step, ledge, or curb in front of you. Reach forward with a piece of tape, stick it to the step if you can, and then measure.

A standing toe touch may be less standard but it measures hamstring flexibility in a similar way. Just stand up, and take a video of yourself (or have a friend take a photo) as you try to touch your toes. Maybe you can only reach to your shins; maybe you can get to your toes; maybe you can put your palms flat on the floor. A video will also show whether you managed to do the move with a rounded back, or with a flat back (which is harder). No judgment here, we’re just taking a measurement and moving on.

Other ways to measure flexibility

The stretches above really just measure how flexible your posterior chain muscles are, mainly your hamstrings. There’s also an element of technique: you can get better at those particular stretches if you practice, even without increasing your flexibility too much. But they’re popular ways to measure flexibility, because they’re simple and, in the case of the sit-and-reach test, lend themselves well to a specific numerical measurement.

But maybe you don’t care so much about your hamstrings. If you have another area of flexibility you’re interested in, document that too. Some ideas:

  • Can you touch your hands behind your back, with one reaching down and one reaching up?
  • How close can you get your knees to the floor in a butterfly stretch?
  • How low can you squat with your heels still on the ground?

Taking a video on your phone is the easiest way to measure progress in these or any other stretches you might want to do. Save the video—or even just a screenshot of the deepest part of the stretch—and then you can put together a before-and-after montage next time you try.

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