We've spent the better part of 2015 encouraging you to get active in whatever way best works for you: be it walking, lifting weights or doing some hardcore yoga. Although we tell you that you can do it, we also appreciate how difficult it is to carve the time and find the energy to do a routine that works for you — let alone stick to it.
We totally get it. You spend 8 to 12 hours sitting behind a desk, and then have to navigate your way back home to cook dinner, do groceries, cart laundry around and, well, the list can feel endless. Even if you find the stamina to change into your workout gear (which you should do the second you get home), you may find that, once you get started, your knees are achy or your back feels a bit tight.
That's because you're not stretching enough. Rather than ignore that achy knee and powering through 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer, hop off and test your flexibility. The last thing you want to do is finish the workout only to sideline yourself for the next few days because of an injury.
We know what you're thinking. You can barely find time to do those 30 to 40 minutes of cardio, and now you have to throw stretching in? The good news is that, according to Fitness magazine, you only need to stretch for a few seconds a few times a week. In fact, a "one 30-second stretch three times a week can significantly lengthen hamstrings in four weeks." If you keep it up, the results you get in the long run will help you tackle your regular workout routine and stick with it.
Fitness devised a test so you can test how limber you are and which spots are in need help. Here are four common troublesome areas:
The test has you hold a pen in your right hand. Stand with feet hip-width apart with your back and butt (and heels, if possible) against a wall. Reach your left arm up and overhead against wall as you side bend to the right; slide your right hand down thigh toward knee. Place a pen mark as far down the leg as you can reach while keeping shoulder blades flush with wall. That's the score for your left obliques. Switch sides and repeat to get the score for right obliques.
Good (3 points): Pen mark is at mid-knee or lower.
Fair (2 points): Pen mark is at top of knee.
Poor (1 point): Pen mark is higher than knee.
For this test, you lie face up on floor and lift your right leg 90 degrees. Try to straighten your right knee without moving your thigh. Switch legs and repeat test.
Good (3 points): Leg is straight.
Fair (2 points): Knee is bent 20 degrees.
Poor (1 point): Knee is bent more than 20 degrees.
PS: Fitness urges all of us desk jockeys to get up and move every 30 minutes. We cannot possibly agree more. Go to the bathroom. Better yet, refill your water bottle and keep hydrated. But makes sure to stand and walk around!
This test has you stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold the back of a chair with your left hand for balance. Bend your right knee 90 degrees up to hip height, then bring it out to right side. Switch legs and repeat to determine score for left hip.
Good (3 points): Thigh is parallel to floor; knee is directly out to the side.
Fair (2 points): Thigh is parallel; knee is slightly in front of body.
Poor (1 point): Thigh is lower than parallel; knee is slightly in front of body.
This test has you sit on the floor with knees bent, legs together and feet flat. Lower your knees out to sides as far as possible while keeping the soles of your feet together. Clasp feet with both hands and pull heels as close to body as possible.
Good (3 points): Heels are 4 inches from your groin.
Fair (2 points): Heels are 5 to 8 inches from your groin.
Poor (1 point): Heels are 9 or more inches from your groin.
Click here to complete the entire circuit. Fitness includes a flexibility score card that you should fill out. With each and every move, make sure you're stretching only to the point of tension. If your muscles start to tremble, explains Fitness, you're pushing too far, which can cause muscle strains and defeat the entire purpose of loosening those tight muscles and limbs.
And listen, if you did really poorly, do not beat yourself up! That's the point! Get in the habit of stretching most days, and test yourself again in a month, and so on until you get as limber as you can.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and while you may never get loose enough to do some complicated pretzel-shape yoga pose, what matters is that you'll be able to stay active without a bunch of aches and pains holding you back from your health-and-wellness goals.