If you’re like me (and many of my clients), you’re often so tired (or pressed for time) by the time your workout’s over that you bypass the stretching corner of the gym in your rush to reach the shower (and get on with your over-full day).
While regular stretching should be a part of everybody’s exercise routine, mid-life exercisers may benefit more than most by spending a little more post-workout time on their mat.
Along with muscle loss, weight gain, declining metabolism and lower bone density, the aging process also bestows upon us the gift of reduced flexibility. Our muscles are no longer able to fully lengthen and thus, prevent our joints from moving through their full range of motion.
In addition to its positive effects on posture, athletic performance, economy of movement, injury prevention and post-workout soreness, maintaining flexibility may also improve short-term memory (a challenge for many perimenopausal women…) and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke (flexibility training reduces arterial stiffness).
Not to mention the deep relaxation that can occur when you still your mind and body.
The most common muscle groups that need attention in mid-life are:
- pectorals (in concert with the anterior deltoids): frequent keyboarding and texting keep our head, shoulders and chest tilted forward and down.
- hip flexors: ‘sitting disease’ leaves the hip flexors in a constant, shortened state.
- neck and top of the shoulders: many of us carry stress along the sides of our n
- lower back: again, constant sitting prevents us from engaging our core and maintaining a neutral pelvic tilt.
Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers:
All of the stretches below use a stability ball as a prop. Not only is the ball useful for providing support for poses that you can’t quite get into, it’s also a useful tight-muscle-prophylactic. Use it instead of a desk chair to promote proper posture and you’re less likely to suffer from a tight chest and lower back to begin with!
Always perform static stretches after your muscles have been warmed up, either at the end of your workout, or after a hot bath or shower.
Hold stretches for approximately 30 s. When you begin a stretch, you’ll feel your body resist. Heed this message. Relax for a moment before trying to intensify the stretch. Stretches should never be painful or ballistic (bouncing) in nature. If you’re extremely tight, repeat each stretch a second time, always after allowing your muscles to relax first.
- Supine hamstring stretch. Start by laying face-up on a mat, both feet on the stability ball. Extend one leg straight up towards the ceiling. Flex the foot and use your hands to pull the leg towards your torso. In order to maximize the benefit of this stretch, focus on keeping the knee as straight as possible (without locking it). Repeat on the other leg.
- Passive chest stretch. Start by sitting on the ball. Walk your legs away from you until your head and shoulders are resting on the ball. Extend arms and legs, forming the letter ‘T’ with your body. Drop you head back and feel the opening in your chest and front of the shoulders. If you’re worried about falling off the ball, increase your base of support by taking a slightly wider stance with your legs.
- Supported hip flexor stretch. Start by kneeling on a mat directly behind your stability ball. Step forward with one foot such that your front knee is bent at an approximately 90 degree angle. Using the ball for support, shift your weight forward, opening up the front of the hip on the back leg. Make sure that your hips are ‘squared’; both should face forward. Repeat on the other leg.
- Seated head tilt. Start by sitting tall on the ball. Shoulders should be back and down with abdominals engaged. Feet can be placed as wide as necessary to promote balance. Hands will be placed at your sides. Tilt your right ear down towards your right shoulder. Turn your head slightly to look at your right knee. Keeping your left arm straight and your palm turned down, lift your arm until you feel the muscles along the left side of your neck and top of the shoulder lengthen. If you feel any tingling in your fingers, lower the arm slightly. Hold and repeat on the other side.
- Child’s pose. Start by kneeling on the mat with the stability ball in front of you. Drop your bum down until it’s resting on your heels (or as close as you can get). Place your hands on the top of the ball, palms down. Move the ball away from your body and lower your head between your straightened arms. Feel the release of tension in the low back, as well as the back of the shoulders and the sides of the body.
Need more stretching ideas?
Here’s a video-guided stretch (for those needing some soothing verbal cueing…)
And some specific stretches for those who sit (or knit) a lot!