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I’ve been reading The Complete Guide to Stretching recently in an effort to help find some solutions to muscle aching problems I have. The hypothesis I’ve been operating under is that I have muscle imbalances. And I’ve been generally trying to improve my fitness for a while now.

The book says that to correct muscle imbalances you should find and stretch the muscles with poor flexibility but adequate strength from continued mid-range use. And find and strengthen the the lax muscles with good flexibility and low strength from continued outer-range use by exercising them within the mid-range. So I want to do is devise a program for myself where I do that.

The book has a number of flexibility tests that I’ve done and graded—and yes, I do indeed have some muscles with poor flexibility and some with very good flexibility—but I’m struggling to interpret exactly what the results of these tests mean, in terms of what exercises I should be doing and for how long.

I think what would be useful is to have the tests unified with the exercises in some way. In other words: I would just like to have a bunch of flexibility exercises to do where I’m told “when you can do X” you have achieved a good-level of flexibility and you don’t need to push beyond this. So just doing the exercise also acts as the test, telling me when I no longer need to continue.

(Even better would be if I’m told that based on a few personal criteria like my height or the length of my limbs etc. which I think you need to take into account to give that information accurately.)

Is there anywhere you can get that information? It seems like quite a basic thing to want, to me (just to know where one should stop when doing stretching exercises for optimal normal overall body flexibility).

Edit: When I ask how far I should go I don’t mean "how much force should I be using". I know not to go beyond what I’m capable of. So what I‘m asking is: when is what I’m already capable of sufficient.

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Just a note on stretching, it is now suggested to do Dynamic stretching pre-workout and static stretching post workout. There is a news article that is a quick read on the reasoning behind the pre-workout stretching here. It also has some stretching examples, and touches on your how far to stretch question. –  dkroy Sep 20 '11 at 3:12
    
Thanks dkroy but I’m well aware of this. –  Ollie Saunders Sep 21 '11 at 0:59
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3 Answers

I may be misunderstanding your question, but it seems that what you are asking for, would depend greatly on your goals and many other factors. “Optimal normal overall body flexibility” varies depending on age, gender, health, body type/size, level of activity and functional needs.

There are many variables. For example, flexibility goals for the hamstrings would differ greatly for the needs of a karate kick, a hurdler or a ballerina’s split compared to the needs of a golfer’s swing, a runner or a person trying to ease back or knee pain. Another example of variables would be hip flexion range of motion that would depend on the girth of the thigh. (A greater thigh girth, from either fat or muscle, would result in less hip flexion due to approximation of soft tissue.)

I don’t know of any resource that allows you to plug in your body dimensions and your outcome goals to obtain a recommended range. Maybe in the future a sufficient database will be created and you will have your answer.

However for now, although not what you are hoping for, there are charts with normative goniometric joint range of motion ranges, which may be helpful to you. If you have a sport specific need, tennis muscle imbalances for example, you can find specific info which is beyond the scope of this question.

As much as science has improved and quantified much of our understanding of the body, it is no replacement for one’s own body awareness. Becoming aware of your body kinesthetically will help you know when you’ve achieved sufficient or optimal range for your body and just need to maintain. If you have no sense of this, a professional such as a physical therapist or trainer could guide you. It is good that you recognize that there is a point beyond which pushing further is counterproductive.

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+1 for the normative goniometric joint ROM reference. I've been looking for exactly that. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 24 '11 at 1:31
    
@Dave, glad I could help. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 24 '11 at 15:41
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The Merck Manual has a table of normal ranges of motion for each joint. (If someone could help me get the table into this answer that would be great--I don't see a simple method.) I haven't gone through every one, but for some movements that I require for lifting, running or sport, I have compared myself to what can be reasonably expected of a functional human being. It is immensely interesting to find out the mobility problems and weaknesses that driving and desk jobs can do to our bodies!

The Indian Journal of Palliative Care, in a study about hematomas and graft-versus-host disease, has a table that includes normal range of motion. Ignore the T-sub-zero, T-sub-one and delta-percent columns; they refer to the disease treatment.

Personally I prefer exrx.net to figure out what each one means. In other words, I'll use it to look up "shoulder flexion" to make sure I know which direction that means. They also have a set of assessment tests that unfortunately appear not to have normal ROM values.

enter image description here

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~ the first 90 sec of this video goes thru shoulder motions- flexion, abduction, internal and external rotation, and this one does the hip motions. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 24 '11 at 16:07
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You should stretch gently, and regularly. When you are flexible enough, you can keep stretching gently but you won't gain much, if any, more flexibility. Everybody is different, and even your own body will change over time in overall flexibility. So there's no standard that says, "In a hamstring stretch, move your leg 'this' far."

If you push too hard when you stretch, you can end up with overstretching injuries. Be gentle when you stretch, and push when you exercise. You should keep stretching, though, to keep the flexibility you've gained. Like strength, flexibility will leave you if you don't work on it.

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