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Sit And Reach Flexibility Test - What Is the Sit And Reach Flexibility Test

Sit and reach is a simple measurement of lower back and hamstring flexibility

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Updated May 28, 2014

Young woman stretching, low section, close-up (focus on foreground)
Peter Cade/The Image Bank/Getty Images
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 for decades to assess baseline flexibility before starting an exercise program and is repeated after several weeks to determine progress. Because it's been around so long, 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.

The sit and reach test has it's 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 is 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

  • 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 extend over the front edge of the box toward the test subject. The 26-cm mark should be at the edge of the box.
  • 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.
  • In a slow, steady movement, lean forward at the hips, keep you knees straight and slide your hand up the ruler as far as you can go.
  • Extend as far as you can, record the result in cm, rest and repeat three time.
  • 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 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. For more ways to improve flexibility, see the following articles.

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: Philadelphia; 2006.

The Canadian Physical Activity Fitness and Lifestyle Appraisal, 2nd edition. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. 2001.

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