Have You Taken the Paper Challenge?

by Leython Williams, PT, DPT1 Comment

In an age where internet challenges and trends change so quickly, the real challenge is keeping up with them all! However, the latest challenge that I’ve come across via social media is called “The Paper Pick-Up Challenge.” By now, I’m certain that many of you reading this blog have heard of this challenge. If you have not, then I’ll warn you – to hear of it is also to attempt it!

The task seems simple enough, pick up a piece of paper that is folded like a tent from the floor only using your mouth. The difficult part is that you must not allow any other body part to touch the floor except the balancing foot throughout the whole task! Please do not perform this challenge if you are currently injured or have any known functional impairments that may make this activity unsafe.

As a physical therapist, this challenge immediately struck me, as it is quite the test of balance, strength and joint mobility. When this challenge is done successfully it is quite impressive! Otherwise the “fails” can be hilarious (as long as nobody gets hurt). In observing others’ attempts and in trying (and failing) “The Paper Pick-Up Challenge” myself, I began to take note and consider the primary factors that are at play throughout the kinetic chain as we attempt this challenge. I’ve also listed one of my favorite exercises in each section that might be helpful to incorporate in your personal fitness regimens to help you crush “The Paper Pick-Up Challenge!”

Balance: Unilateral (One-legged) balance is being challenged dynamically by not only balancing on one leg, but also being able to maintain that balance throughout the task without any assistance of hands or the opposite foot! Any balance deficits you have will be exposed quickly within the first second of the attempt of this challenge.

Exercise: Unilateral three-way kick

  • Begin this exercise by standing on one leg on the floor or unstable surface (I used the edge of a foam pad). On the opposite leg, pull your toes up toward your body and kick your leg forward, then lower it back to the starting position. Repeat this motion sideways and backward with each leg.

Strength: While balancing on one leg, you must lower yourself toward the floor in effort to pick up the paper with your mouth only. In order to do this successfully, eccentric quad strength is vital! Eccentric strength, in this case, refers to the quads’ ability to contract as the muscle lengthens during your descent onto the fixed stance leg. Deficits in eccentric quad strength will be apparent in any inability to control the unilateral squat necessary in performing the paper pick-up. Back extensors are also functioning as stabilizers through this movement, thus weakness in mid to low back musculature can lead to fatigue and/or failure in your attempt.

Exercise: Single Leg Squats

  • Stand in an upright position in front of a chair and with your arms straight in front of your body. Lift one leg off the ground as shown in the pictures below. Next, squat down with the standing leg, using the chair as a guide for when to stop the squat (pay attention to your knee as you squat, as it should not move forward past your toe). Repeat with both legs.

Exercise: Cone Pick-Ups

  • Begin in a standing upright position with a cone (or other object) on the floor in front of you. Bend forward at your hips, letting one leg extend straight backward, reaching down with your arm to pick up the cone, then return to the starting position. Put the cone back on the floor in the same way and repeat. To incorporate more quad/thigh strengthening, bend your knee as you reach for the cone to also create a single leg squat.

Mobility: Mobility is an integral component to crush “The Paper Pick-Up Challenge.” It is imperative that you have full mobility in the mid to low back and down the kinetic chain to the knee and hip to be able to bend over far enough to reach the folded paper with your mouth. Any impairments in spinal flexion (forward bending), knee bending, and/or hip flexion will limit your ability to complete this task even if your balance and strength are off the charts! Perhaps less obvious is the necessary ankle mobility on the stance leg during this challenge. Ankle dorsiflexion is the action of the top of the foot moving closer to the shin—this action is occurring on the stance leg as you lower your center of mass toward the floor. Deficits in ankle dorsiflexion mobility can provide a restriction in your ability to go deeper into the unilateral squat necessary in the final phase of the paper pick-up. Often times, tightness in the calf can lead to decreased ankle dorsiflexion; other times the restriction is joint related.

Exercise: Ankle Dorsiflexion Self-Mobilization in Half-Kneeling

  • Begin in a half-kneeling position. Slowly shift your weight forward while keeping your foot flat on the floor. Your knee should bend past your toes until you feel a stretch in your lower calf/achilles. The goal is to touch the wall with your knee as your foot stays flat on the floor (do not let your heel come up). The farther your toe is from the wall in your starting position, the greater the stretch will be as you shift your weight toward the wall. Hold stretch for 3 sec. for 10 reps. Repeat on both sides. 

Challenge Yourself!

Challenging yourself daily with your health and fitness goals is a good thing, however it is important to not get discouraged if you are unable to successfully complete the paper challenge. This challenge takes a lot of balance and strength, so it is definitely something to work toward, and the aforementioned exercises can help you along the way.

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1 Comment

  1. Margaret Hill

    Wow, hats off to everyone that has successfully accomplished the “PaperPickUpChallenge.” I can barely stand in the middle of the foam pad with my eyes closed. Great blog Dr. Williams. Keep sharing.
    M. Hill

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