Clement Golliet: “The famous sit and reach test”

Written by: Clement Golliet

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***Clement Golliet is the newly appointed Director of ACE Fitness and is overseeing the fitness component of all ACE Tennis High Performance programs, is the Head Trainer at Toronto Tennis City and ACE Burlington, and offers private and group fitness sessions for ACE and OTA players as required. Clement’s mandate is to help build the new ACE Fitness brand and to offer leading edge training for tennis players in Ontario.

Clement has a Bachelors of Kinesiology from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) and possesses various certifications in the areas of private training, spinning, T-Rx, performance, and reconditioning. A former high level basketball player and bodybuilder, Clement also has his French Federation Level 3 in kayaking. Before coming to Toronto to work with ACE Fitness, Clement was a personal trainer, fitness, strength, and conditioning coach at Sporting Club Sanctuaire in Montreal for tennis, basketball, and track running. Clement also has professional training in Clinical rehabilitation and experience as a sports teacher in Switzerland.

If you have any questions for Clement, he can be reached here.***

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Many tests are not always used properly. One of these tests is the well-known and popular sit and reach test which often is not used correctly, as too much focus is given on the outcome and not on observation.

The sit and reach test is a test designed to measure the flexibility of the low back and hamstring.

The athlete is seated with knees extended with legs flat on the floor (mat) without shoes.

The athlete’s feet are touching the flexometre, knees are held to make sure they do not come off the floor. The athlete leans forward with arms extended and the distance from the fingertips to the toes is measured. Hands are placed next to each other, with index fingers touching. It is important to make sure the athlete holds the stretch without bouncing for two seconds. Each athlete gets two trials. The measure is taken in centimetres.

A) Sit and reach test

A) Sit and reach test

This test neglects important variables. The results may be different depending on the athlete’s age and imbalances between the lower member’s trunk and superior’s members – even for adults.

A person with long legs and a small trunk does not necessarily touch his/her toes and it does not mean that he/she does not have flexible hamstrings.

So we should be careful and give a lot of attention. As Kendall says: “a decrease in the flexibility of the spine may go unnoticed in the presence of hamstring stretches. Or vice versa. It means that some people with this imbalance can succeed the test and even have a good score.”

Furthermore, the test does not take in consideration the discrepancy between the left side and the right side. Some studies have shown that asymmetry of hamstring flexibility can be linked with back pain. So the point is that the test does not help to detect this important point.

So I do not recommend doing this stretching on a regular basis for increased flexibility, even more so for people with bad back and herniated disc. Some very good studies have proven that repeated spine flexion are the cause of herniation of the spine and can cause even more compression if done in the morning after waking up. In the morning, the disc height is augmented as all ligaments are taut. So flexing the spine at that time can cause more compression, even if stretching in spine flexion brings some relief due to the stimulation of the stretch receptors, in reality this causes the spine to crush.

Other more useful tests can be done instead such as the single leg raise. Lay down on the back keeping the natural lordosis (natural curve of the back); raise one straight leg until you cannot go further. If you have 90 degrees angle it means you have a good flexibility of the hamstring; so repeat with the other leg and see if you can go as far.

B) The single leg raise (but with one leg raise and one on the ground)

B) The single leg raise (but with one leg raise and one on the ground)

To conclude, we have to be careful with the sit and reach test. Focusing on the result of the test is the mistake often made. The test in itself means nothing as I have explained. One person can have a very good score and be very tight at the same time. From experience, I have seen athletes with a very good score at the sit and reach test; however, they were extremely tight from the hips. When doing the single leg test, they barely reached a 30 to 40 degree hip flexion. This meant they had a hypermobility in the low back. Therefore very close attention has to be given to the posture of the athlete when executing the sit and reach test. Evidence can be found about the athlete’s flexibility when observing the body type, e.g. long legs with a short torso etc…

Do not do the test sit and reach test if the athlete has back troubles. Rather use another test for hamstring flexibility.

Finally, to evaluate an athlete, one single test is not enough. The best thing is to ask a therapist to carry out a thorough musculoskeletal evaluation as too many factors, such as muscle imbalance and bad posture, come into play, impeding performance and leading to injuries.

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