Sit and Reach Flexibility Test: How to Perform

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The sit and reach test is the most common way to measure lower back and hamstring flexibility.

Because tightness in the low back and hamstrings is often related to muscle pain and stiffness, this test may help determine a person's risk for future pain and injury. It has been used by exercise physiologists and fitness trainers to assess baseline flexibility before starting an exercise program and is repeated after several weeks to determine progress.

Sit and reach test 

Because it's been around so long, since 1952, it has a pretty large database of results across all age groups and genders. For this reason, people continue to use it to compare a person's flexibility to the average result for their gender and age group.

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Why Perform a Sit and Reach Test?

The sit and reach test has its share of critics who believe it's not a useful measurement of functional, or "real-life," flexibility, and I tend to agree. How often do we need to sit on the floor with our legs straight in front of us and reach for our toes? I'd guess not often.

On the other hand, how often do we need to bend over and pick something up (golfers, tennis players, baseball), get into a tuck position (skiing or cycling), or even kick something (soccer)? These are real-life examples where good back and hamstring flexibility are needed. But the sit and reach doesn't do a good job of measuring that well.

New flexibility assessments are currently being developed, and many trainers and therapists use their own versions with clients. But until more specialized flexibility tests become mainstream, the sit and reach can help track flexibility changes over time. When used for this purpose, it can be a useful testing tool for general flexibility.

How to Perform the Sit and Reach Test

  • Get a testing box: You'll need a special sit-and-reach testing box. You can also make your own testing box by finding a solid box about 30-cm tall. Fix a meter stick on top of the box so that 26 cm of the ruler extends over the front edge of the box toward the test subject. The 26-cm mark should be at the edge of the box.
  • Get in position: Remove your shoes and sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you with knees straight and feet flat against the front end of the test box.
  • Begin the movement: In a slow, steady movement, lean forward at the hips, keep your knees straight and slide your hand up the ruler as far as you can go.
  • Stretch and repeat: Extend as far as you can, record the result in cm, rest, and repeat three times.
  • Calculate your results: Average your results for your final score.

What Your Sit and Reach Test Results Mean

Sit-and-reach results compare your own flexibility over time as well as comparing your score to norms, or averages, for your gender and age. Adequate flexibility concerned with being able to reach your toes when while keeping your legs straight. If you can’t reach your toes (the 26-cm mark on the ruler), your flexibility is less than recommended.

Sit and Reach Test Scores

Adult Men - results in centimeters (cm)

  • Above 34 = Excellent
  • 28 to 34 = Above average
  • 23 to 27 = Average
  • 16 to 22 = Below average
  • Below 16 = Poor

Adult Women - results in centimeters (cm)

  • Above 37 = Excellent
  • 33 to 36 = Above average
  • 29 to 32 = Average
  • 23 to 28 = Below average
  • Below 23 = Poor

Improve Your Flexibility

If you have less than adequate flexibility, you can increase your flexibility by stretching the major muscle groups about three times a week.

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