This crucial fitness factor often is overlooked or ignored by exercisers who want maximum results in minimum time. As dancers and athletes—such as gymnasts, figure skaters, and high divers—prove, however, flexibility is an important element of being in shape. Runners regularly stretch before a training run or race, and even musclesports athletes such as football players and boxers add flexibility training to their regimes. Pilates, yoga, and stretch classes are among the most popular disciplines that focus specifically on helping with flexibility.

“flexibility is an important element of being in shape”

You can assess the flexibility of each part of your body by performing a simple motion and seeing how far you can go. If you get into the habit of warming up with light cardiovascular activity for at least five minutes before your new workout and stretching during the cool-down afterward, your flexibility will improve and you will reduce the risk of injury. To check the flexibility of your

♦ Hamstring and lower back, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly flexed. Roll down from the waist, reaching your fingertips toward the floor. If you can easily reach the floor, you have good flexibility in these locations. If you can touch your toes, you are moderately flexible. If you’re not even close, you need to work on this. If you have lower-back problems, it’s best not to attempt this at all.

♦ Shoulders and upper back, raise one arm and reach back behind your shoulder and neck in a downward direction. Then place the other hand behind your back and raise it. With your forearms on a diagonal across your back, try to clasp your hands together behind you. If you can do so easily, you have flexible shoulders. If you can bring your fingertips close without touching, you are moderately flexible. If your hands can’t come close, you might experience stiffness and discomfort in your neck and shoulders so you need to work on this.

♦ Calves, sit squarely on the floor and extend your legs straight out in front of you. Flex your feet. If your toes exceed the perpendicular angle and point slightly back toward you, you have very flexible calf muscles. If your toes are perpendicular to the floor, your calf muscles are moderately flexible. If you can’t get your toes comfortably toward perpendicular, you might be susceptible to ankle problems so you need to work on this.

♦ Quadriceps and hip flexors, lie on your stomach with one leg straight and bend the other toward your rear. If your heel easily touches your buttock, you have good quad flexibility. If it comes close but doesn’t touch, you are moderately flexible. If you can’t even come close, you might be prone to knee problems so you need to work on this.

♦ Hips and buttocks, lie on your back and bring up one knee. Keeping your other leg straight on the floor, hug the knee close to your chest. If you can do this but your straight leg rolls toward the outside of the hip, you are moderately flexible. If you can’t bring your knee close without your straight leg rising from the floor, you might have hip or back problems so you need to work on this.