All yoga teachers will have heard the refrain ‘I’m so stiff, I can’t touch my toes!’ often paradoxically given as an excuse not to venture into the yoga studio in the first place. But an inability to bend down and reach your feet is only testing one main muscle group; the hamstrings (with some lower back) so it makes no sense to brand yourself as ‘stiff’ on this one test.
‘Flexibility is highly specific to the muscle involved,’ write Reese and Bandy in their book Joint Range of Motion and Muscle Length Testing. ‘It does not exist as a general characteristic but is specific to the joint and muscle in question.’ We are comprised of a series of joints, each comprising varying levels of mobility.
You can guarantee, therefore that everyone has a happy bendy place; it’s just a question of finding it. I have a middle-aged triathlete who can’t touch his toes but his supine external hip rotation (lying on his back with a leg bent and dropping out to the side) would make a male prima ballerina envious ( or Lance’s ‘froggie legs’ as we affectionate call it).
Will he ever master the seated forward bend? Maybe not, but his Tree pose is epic.