What Is the Sit and Reach Test?

Measurement of Lower Back and Hamstring Flexibility

man sitting and stretching hamstrings

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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.

Sit and Reach Test

Exercise physiologists and fitness trainers may use the sit and reach test—which measures lower back and hamstring flexibility—to assess your baseline flexibility. Repeating the test after several weeks can help determine your progress. Because this test has been around since 1952, it has an extensive database of results across all age groups and genders. Consequently, you can use the sit and reach test to compare your flexibility to the average result for someone of your gender and age group.

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Why Perform a Sit and Reach Test?

The sit and reach test has its share of critics who believe it's not a valuable measurement of functional or "real-life" flexibility. How often do we need to sit on the floor with our legs straight in front of us and reach for our toes? Not very often.

On the other hand, how often do we need to bend over and pick something up (golf, tennis, 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 are needed. But the sit and reach test 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. It can be a functional testing tool for general flexibility when used for this purpose.

How to Perform the Sit and Reach Test

First, you'll need a special sit-and-reach testing box. You can also make your own testing box by finding a solid box about 30cm tall. Fix a meter stick on top of the box so that 26 cm of the ruler extends over the front edge of the box toward the test subject. The 26cm mark should be at the edge of the box.

  • Get in position: 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.
  • Begin the movement: In a slow, steady motion, lean forward at the hips, keep your knees straight and slide your hand up the ruler as far as you can go.
  • Stretch and repeat: Extend as far as you can, record the result in cm, rest, and repeat three times.
  • Calculate your results: Average your results for your final score.

Sit and Reach Test Results

Sit-and-reach results compare your flexibility over time and your score to norms, or averages, for your gender and age. Adequate flexibility is reaching your toes (the 26-cm mark on the ruler) while keeping your legs straight.

Sit and Reach Test Scores

 Adult Men  Adult Women Result
 34cm or above  37cm or above Excellent
 28 to 33cm  33 to 36cm Above average
 23 to 27cm  29 to 32cm Average
 16 to 22cm  23 to 28cm Below average
 Below 16cm  Below 23cm Poor

Alternatives to the Sit and Reach Test

You can test your own hamstring and lower back flexibility with some easy tests at home. Use these methods as you work on your flexibility and keep a record to see how you improve.

One method is called the V-sit. To perform this, you make a line on the floor with tape, then place a measuring tape perpendicular to the tape, creating a cross. Sit with your feet in a V shape touching the tape, feet about a foot apart, with the measuring tape in between your legs, the 0 end starting where your legs part. Overlap your hands with arms outstretched in front of you. Practice three times, leaning forward and reaching your hands out. Then, repeat and take note of how far your hands could reach.

You can also try the fingertip-to-floor-distance test. You will need someone to measure the distance between your fingertips and the floor for this. All you need to do is warm up with a few practice stretches, standing and bending toward the floor. Then, measure how far from the floor your fingertips are. You may be able to touch the floor, which is great.

Improve Your Flexibility

If you have less than adequate flexibility, work on stretching the major muscle groups consistently. Don't limit yourself to stretching your hamstrings; you'll want to improve flexibility in both your upper and lower body for the most benefits.

Improving your flexibility will take time and dedication. You can incorporate dynamic stretching—active movements utilizing a full range of motion as part of warming up for workouts, sports, or other training activities. Static stretching may be best reserved for a cool-down after you've been warm and your joints are lubricated.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2 to 3 sessions per week of flexibility training with a goal of some daily stretching. Aim to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat the stretch 2 to 4 times.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wells KF, Dillon EK. The sit and reach—A test of back and leg flexibilityRes Q Am Assoc Health Phys Educ Rec. 1952;23(1):115-118. doi:10.1080/10671188.1952.10761965.

  2. Mayorga-Vega D, Merino-Marban R, Viciana J. Criterion-related validity of sit-and-reach tests for estimating hamstring and lumbar extensibility: A meta-analysisJ Sports Sci Med. 2014;13(1):1–14.

  3. Hansberger BL, Loutsch R, Hancock C, Bonser R, Zeigel A, Baker RT. Evaluating the relationship between clinical assessments of apparent hamstring tightness: a correlational analysis. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(2):253-263.

  4. Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitationInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7(1):109-119. PMID:22319684

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.