Return to Essential Skills
Stretching for Health
Walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is a simple way to take care of your
health. Stretching also provides a host of
benefits, including injury prevention, stress release,
improved mobility, enhanced athletic performance, and better posture. Try these
- Take a class.
Consider taking yoga, Pilates, or tai chi classes. An instructor can model
proper technique and help hold you accountable.
- Warm up.
Start with 5 to 10 minutes of walking to help loosen muscles. Then focus on
your hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, calves, and back. And don’t forget
to stretch both sides evenly.
- Inhale and exhale.
Breathe as you stretch, holding each position; never bounce. You should feel
tension but not pain.
- Do it daily.
Spend five minutes each day doing a few
basic stretches (see below) — while showering,
during the workday, when at your desk, before bed, or after every workout.
Add flexibility training to your
cardio and strength routine to help stretch you into better health.
Stretching exercises are thought to
give you more freedom of movement to do the things you need to do and the things
you like to do. Stretching exercises alone will not improve your endurance or
How Much, How
Stretch after you do your
regularly scheduled strength and endurance exercises.
If you can't do
endurance or strength exercises for some reason, and stretching exercises are
the only kind you are able to do, do them at least 3 times a week, for at least
20 minutes each session. Note that stretching exercises, by themselves, don't
improve endurance or strength.
Do each stretching
exercise 3 to 5 times at each session.
Slowly stretch into
the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch
for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.
If you have had a hip replacement,
check with the doctor who did your surgery before doing lower body exercises.
If you have had a
hip replacement, don't cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90-degree angle.
Always warm up
before stretching exercises (do them after endurance or strength exercises,
for example; or, if you are doing only stretching exercises on a particular day,
do a little bit of easy walking and arm-pumping first). Stretching your muscles
before they are warmed up may result in injury.
never cause pain, especially joint pain. If it does, you are stretching too far,
and you need to reduce the stretch so that it doesn't hurt.
Mild discomfort or
a mild pulling sensation is normal.
into a stretch; make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position
can cause muscles to tighten, possibly resulting in injury.
your joints into place when you straighten them during stretches. Your arms
and legs should be straight when you stretch them, but don't lock them in a
tightly straight position. You should always have a very small amount of bending
in your joints while stretching.
You can progress in your stretching
exercises; the way to know how to limit yourself is that stretching should never
hurt. It may feel slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. Push yourself to
stretch farther, but not so far that it hurts.
Most of the remaining exercises are
done on the floor and stretch some very important muscle groups. If you are
afraid to lie on the floor to exercise, because you think you won't be able to
get back up, consider using the buddy system to do these. Adopt a buddy who will
be able to provide assistance if you need it.
Knowing the right
way to get into a lying position on the floor and the right way to get back up
also may be helpful to you. If you have had a hip replacement, check with your
surgeon before using the following method. If you have osteoporosis, check with
your doctor first.
To get into a
- Stand next to a very
sturdy chair that won't tip over (put chair against wall for support if you
- Put your hands on
the seat of the chair.
- Lower yourself down
on one knee.
- Bring the other knee
- Put your left hand
on the floor and lean on it as you bring your left hip to the floor.
- Your weight is now
on your left hip.
- Straighten your legs
- Lie on your left
- Roll onto your back.
Note: You don't have to use your left side. You can use your right side,
if you prefer.
To get up from a
- Roll onto your left
- Use your right hand,
placed on the floor at about the level of your ribs, to push your shoulders
off the floor.
- Your weight is on
your left hip.
- Roll forward, onto
your knees, leaning on your hands for support.
- Lean your hands on
the seat of the chair you used to lie down.
- Lift one of your
knees so that one leg is bent, foot flat on the floor.
Leaning your hands
on the seat of the chair for support, rise from this position.
Note: You don't have to use your left side; you can reverse positions, if you
Taken from Exercise A Guide to Aging
Chapter 4: Stretching Exercises
About Floor Exercises
Alternative Hamstring Stretch
Double Hip Rotation
Single Hip Rotation
What is Yoga and How
Can It Help Me?
Muscle and Stretching sites
An atlas of the muscles from the University of Washington
Exercise and Muscle Directory
This is a great tool for helping to learn muscles and their actions
New Muscle Stretches
Easy to do stretches for the major muscle groups
by Bob Anderson, (2000), Shelter Publications, Inc. Tips for everyday
fitness and most sports. Clear illustrations are easy to follow.