To Stretch or Not to Stretch…That is the Question!

Why bother stretching?  Do I stretch before or after exercise, or both?  How long do I hold a stretch?  These are questions I often hear from Baby Boomers and older adults who are concerned about fitness and improving flexibility.

Benefits of Stretching

Everybody, especially folks over 50, needs to stretch on a regular basis; daily is a great idea!   According to the American Counsel on Exercise (ACE), here are 10 top reasons to stretch:

  1. Decreases muscle stiffness and increases range of motion.
  2. May reduce risk of injury.
  3. Helps relieve post-exercise aches and pains.
  4. Improves posture.
  5. Helps reduce or manage stress and improve sleep.
  6. Reduces muscular tension and enhances muscular relaxation; improves flexibility.
  7. Improves mechanical efficiency and overall functional performance.
  8. Prepares the body for the stress of exercise, thus helping prevent injury.
  9. Promotes circulation.
  10. Decreases the risk of low-back pain.

And I would add to that:

Stretching helps with the execution of everyday tasks.  For example, many of my clients are now able to reach down and pull on their shoes and socks. Or reach back and hook their bras.  And stretching helps you feel younger, as people typically associate “being stiff” with old age.

General Guidelines

Although there’s still no across-the-board consensus, most fitness experts recommend stretching after exercise, not before.  That’s because the type of stretching we usually perform, static stretching (holding a stretch in one position without movement), is best done at the conclusion of a workout, when the muscles are properly warmed, and therefore more pliable.

(Prior to exercising, start to warm up muscles and get blood flowing with  5 – 10 minutes of walking.)

Here are some guidelines to following when stretching:

  • Move slowly until feeling gentle tension, not pain.
  • Avoid jerking and bouncing.
  • Keep joints slightly bent while stretching, not locked.
  • Exhale going into stretch, then breathe normally and hold for 30 seconds.

Sample Stretches

Following are four examples of stretches to do after exercising:

—Chest stretch

Interlace fingers behind back, squeeze shoulder blades together while lifting arms.  Hold.

—Shoulder and upper-arm stretch with small towel

Hold one end of towel in right hand. Raise hand over head with towel behind back; bend elbow. Grab towel with left hand behind your back and pull down.  Hold.  Repeat with other hand.

—Standing calf stretch

Stand with a rolled towel under right foot next to wall.  Place foot at angle with heel on ground and toes on wall.  With front (right) leg straight and hands on wall, gradually lean into wall until feeling stretch.  Hold.  Repeat with left leg.

—Hamstring stretch with stretch band

Sit in a chair and place band under middle of left foot.  Extend leg out and slowly raise.  Keep shoulders relaxed; with back straight, lean forward slightly at the waist.  Hold.  Repeat with right leg.

To learn more about how to stretch correctly, reach out to me.

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