We are moving on to Movement Pattern 2: Flexion. This pattern seems like you are testing an age old question…can you touch your toes? It is a nice benchmark, but there is much more to it than that. Look at everything that is moving to allow you to bend forward: Head/neck, shoulders, spine, hips, pelvis, knees and ankles. All of that has to move, but also has to stabilize to keep you upright. That last sentence is key! If you had trouble doing this movement pattern in standing, can you do it like this?
If you can now touch your toes but couldn’t in standing, it is likely not a mobility concern as you have shown you have the motion to accomplish touching your toes. What may be an issue is that you are overusing some muscles or locking up segments to help hold you up and stable while simultaneously trying to move to reach your toes. Once you sit down you don’t have to hold on as much, so you are free to move into a greater range (of course, the quality on how you reach your toes still matters, but for the purpose of this post we will leave it at reaching your toes).
If you still have trouble touching their toes, let’s check the hamstrings. Can you lift your own leg straight up in the air while keeping both knees/legs straight? The idea is to lift your leg up to >70-75 degrees, while keeping the other leg straight + in contact with the ground (the picture to the left is with the leg lifted 90 degrees up). If you can’t reach 70-75 degrees, can someone else take you up to that mark while still keeping your opposite leg and pelvis down? You may feel tightness in the back of the thigh, but total mobility is what we are looking for. Don’t push into pain, just to see what kind of motion you have available. If you don’t have 70-75 degrees of motion available, your hamstrings are likely limiting how you flex.
Let’s keep flexing in different patterns, though: Lie on your back and hug your knees – Can you bring your thighs to your ribcage? Now, we are looking at how your hips move. Your hips are unloaded. In other words, there is no body weight going through your hips so they are free to move. If anything blocks this motion (tightness, pain or even if your stomach gets in the way), you do not have full range of your hip flexion available.
What about looking at how your spine moves from a hands and knees, crawling position – Can you rock back onto your heels and get your ribcage to your thighs in this position? Your spine is unloaded & your hamstrings are on slack, so neither are stopping you. How is this position? Again, the focus is to see how you move and if there is any pain. NEVER continue moving into pain. Our first principle before knowing where to start trying to move better is pain.
So, you tested all of these positions and wonder where to go from here. If any of these movments did not meet the criteria but were without pain, try to improve that movement pattern – stretch, mobilize tight areas, etc. Keep trying to gently progress. Even using the test as the exercise (actually lie on your back and hug your knees or get into hands and knees rock back onto your heels) if these were deficient. Once you move better in the pain-free zones, see if you can now move further and/or without pain in previously painful patterns. You might be surprised!