If you’ve noticed lately you don’t seem as flexible as you used to be, you’re probably right. As we age, our flexibility decreases, and can acquire muscle imbalances. Flexibility is important for many reasons, including minimizing risk of injuries during exercise (and even just regular daily activities).
The good news is you can maintain flexibility and improve muscle performance. By incorporating flexibility training into your routine, you also can improve posture and muscle extensibility, while correcting muscle imbalances. If you’re over 40, do these stretching exercises in the order noted below three to five times per week.
Over-40 Stretching Routine
Static neck stretch
Static stretching helps increase the motion of a joint by holding the muscle in an elongated positon for a period of time. Stretching the neck not only improves flexibility but it also helps ease neck pain by increasing strength and releasing tension.
What to do: Stand straight with shoulders square. Slowly turn your head to the right and hold for 20 seconds; return to your starting position, then repeat to the left side. Next, stretch looking up, and then stretch with your chin down to your chest. Repeat 2-5 times.
Shoulders are part of your neck, ribs and scapula, so it’s important to keep them flexible in order to improve posture and to keep a pain-free full range of motion in the upper body.
What to do: Begin either standing or sitting. Roll shoulders forward in big circles in a smooth and slow motion. Work up to 10 repetitions. Then roll shoulders backwards in big circles for 10 reps.
What to do: Stretch your right arm straight across your body. Using your left hand, grasp the back of your right arm above the elbow and gently pull it to assist in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on the other side. (Note: For extra stretching, perform using different angles.)
Quadriceps are the largest muscles in your legs. They can become tight when we sit for too long or with strength training (if you’re not stretching). We use our quads for just about everything we do, so it’s important to keep them flexible.
What to do: For balance, place hands on the back of a chair or wall. Reach behind and grab the top of your right foot with your right hand. Gently pull your foot toward your butt with your knee pointing straight down and not to the side. Make sure to keep your upper body and head forward and your core tight while performing the stretch. Hold between 15-30 seconds; repeat with left leg.
Dynamic lateral lunge stretch
A dynamic stretch is a stretch you perform while moving. A lateral lunge stretch is an all-over lower body stretch using several muscles in your legs, inner thighs and core
What to do: Begin by standing straight with your arms at your sides. Next, take a step out to the right, bending your right knee to lower down, and slightly leaning your torso forward. Return to beginning position by pushing off with your right foot. Repeat on the left side. Continue this exercise for 30-60 seconds.
Hip flexor stretch
Hip flexors run from the lower spine down the front of the hips, and then attach to the top of the leg. Because we sit all day, our hip flexors are often tight and contracted leading to short, tight muscles (which may lead to pain).
What to do: With your right knee on the floor, step your left foot forward into a lunge position. Keeping your left foot flat on the floor, lean your weight forward into the front foot lowering your right hip toward the floor and stretching right hip. Hold position for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with the other side.
Back pain over the age of 40 is common. Our core muscles and muscles in our lower backs are used all day, walking, bending, lifting things, etc. That’s why it’s important to create mobility in the spine by stretching these core muscles.
What to do: Begin on the floor in a table position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. With your hands, push into the ground while rounding your back upward; draw your abdominals in and up while lowering your head. Return to starting position, then arch your back by lifting your chin and tailbone to the sky. Return to starting position again. Repeat 10 times
Static Upper back stretch
Using a resistance band for this stretch helps to deepen the stretch and increase flexibility. The stretching should feel good, so adjust where you hold the band in order to get to the right level of flexibility.
What to do: Sitting on the floor, extend your legs and loop the band around both feet. Grab and wrap the band on each side with both hands close to your feet. Gently curl your back and stretch toward the back of the room using the bands to create tension. Make sure to keep your abs contracted. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
Trainer tip: Taking a yoga class (or pilates class) two days a week is also a great way to incorporate stretching into your weekly routine.