As you age, your muscles tighten and range of motion in the joints can be minimized. This can put a damper on active lifestyles and even hinder day-to-day, normal motions. Tasks that used to be simple, such as zipping up a dress or reaching for a can off of the top shelf, now become extremely difficult. A regular stretching program can help lengthen your muscles and make daily living activities easier.
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, whether you exercise or not. There are simple stretches you can do while watching TV, on the computer, or getting ready for bed. If you are doing strength training exercises, stretch in between sets. It feels good and saves time from stretching at the end of the workout!
- Reduced muscle tension
- Increased range of movement in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Increased circulation of the blood to various parts of the body
- Increased energy levels (resulting from increased circulation)
Stretching is important for people of all ages! One of the greatest benefits of stretching is that you’re able to increase your range of motion, which means your limbs and joints can move further before an injury occurs. Post-exercise stretching can also aid in workout recovery, decrease muscle soreness, and ensure that your muscles and tendons are in good working order. The more conditioned your muscles and tendons are, the better they can handle the rigors of sport and exercise, and the less likely that they’ll become injured.
Stretching comes naturally to all of us. You might notice that if you have been sitting in a particular position for a long time, you stretch unconsciously. It feels good! In addition to that good feeling, a consistent stretching program will produce large gains in flexibility and joint movement. Be kind to your muscles and they will be kind to you!
The more frequently you stretch, the more quickly you will gain flexibility. It is recommended to stretch all of the major muscle groups daily—or at the very least, each time you exercise (a minimum of 3-4 times per week).
Each stretch should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of “mild discomfort.” If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far.
Ideally, most experts recommend that people stretch for 10-15 minutes per day. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, repeating one or two more times, depending on how you feel.
Static stretching is a low-force stretch where the muscle is held at the greatest possible length for up to 30 seconds. This is probably the most common type of stretch, mainly because it benefits from being both effective and safe.
PNF is short for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. This involves maximally contracting a muscle (usually with a partner or trainer who is trained in this technique) and then immediately doing a static stretch for the muscle.
Passive stretching increases the range of motion by using an external force (like a partner, a wall or the floor).
Active stretching involves assuming a position (or stretch) and then holding it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your “helper” muscles.
Dynamic stretching involves controlled, gentle leg and arm swings that take you to the limits of your range of motion.
Safety and Preventing Tips
- Always warm up before stretching. Think of your muscles like you would a rubber band. It’s easy to stretch a warm rubber band, but if you try to stretch a cold one, you risk cracking or breaking it. Your best bet is to stretch after warming up or at the end of your workout.
- Do not lock your joints when you stretch. Keep joints like the elbows and knees slightly bent to avoid unnecessary stress on the joints.
- Never hold your breath while stretching. Try to breathe normally, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Take your time. The long-sustained, mild stretch reduces unwanted muscle tension and tightness.
- Do not compare yourself with others. Everyone has different degrees of flexibility. Comparisons may lead to overstretching.
- If you have had a hip replacement, do not cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90-degree angle during any of your stretching exercises.
- Avoid ballistic stretching and other high-force. You have far less control during this type of stretch and therefore a greater potential risk of injury.
- Never stretch to the point of pain. If it hurts, stop.
- Talk to your doctor about any current or former musculoskeletal injuries or problems that might affect your ability to stretch safely and effectively.
Stretches you can do in Bed
Sources of Information:
• “Guide to Stretching” by Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols on SparkPeople