How stretchy are you? These easy standing stretches can help improve range of motion and mobility even if you have poor flexibility. Improve your stretchy-ness so you can reduce joint pain, and enjoy greater independence in your later years.
Written By: Coach Todd
Do you wake up feeling supple and relaxed like a spry cat?
You are not alone if you choked on the question.
Most people feel like a mummified King Tut in the morning… not Felix the flexible kitty.
Sure. 30 minutes after waking your joints are all toasty and you are ready to embark on your day.
But decades of poor mobility turn like a slow-building Steven King horror novel. Soon, that stiff back reveals it’s scary clown face and drags you into the pain-filled sewers underneath Derry.
Let’s fix those tight muscles with some beginner flexibility stretches before your stiffness morphs into pain, loss of independence, and never-ending battles with an evil dark monster named IT.
Why Should Seniors Stretch?
It feels good of course.
More than that. Here’s why the American Council on Exercise recommends stretching: “It helps improve posture, decrease back pain, enhance circulation, speed up recovery after workouts, improve the functionality of daily activities, increase range of motion, lower the risk of injury, relax your muscle and reduce stress levels.”
Wow! If that doesn’t razz your berries I don’t know what will.
Can I Gain Flexibility After 60?
“Everything’s downhill from here”.
“You lose flexibility as you age”.
“Muscle wastes over time.”
Here’s the real truth…
If you don’t use it, you lose it.
3 Quick Flexibility Tests for Seniors – How Stretchy Are You?
So how stretchy are you? Here are a few tests that won’t require you to contort into a pretzel or leave you pushing your medical alert button from the floor.
Sit and Reach
Sit in a chair. Scootch to the edge. Place your left leg in front of you with your toes pointed upward. Your leg will be straight.
While keeping your back straight (don’t round), hinge from the hips and try to touch your toes. That’s ok if you can’t do it. Don’t force yourself to touch your toes. Go as far as you comfortably can.
Do your fingers need high-powered binoculars to even glimpse your little piggies? No worries. We’ll work on that.
Maybe your fingers embraced your toes like a high school couple parked at a drive-in. A+ for flexibility! Felix would be proud of you.
The sit and reach test measures the flexibility in your hamstrings and low back. When one or both of your hammies are tight, it can pull your pelvis out of alignment and cause low back, hip or even knee pain.
Tie Your Shoelaces
There are 3 typical positions we use to tie our shoelaces.
- Leaning Forward – Seated
- Leg Up – Seated
If you have difficulty tying your shoes in any of the above postures, you have two options. Trade-in your tennies for some comfy slippers. This may present problems on your next mushroom hunt in Manistee National Forest. Or…
Take a lesson from Doc’s flux capacitor and travel back to when your lumbar and hip mobility had more pep. These standing up stretches will be your flux capacitor. Great Scott!
Scratch Your Back/Brush Your Hair
Here’s your third and final test.
Lift your right arm above your head. Bend your elbow so your right hand drops behind your head. Now rotate your left shoulder and bend your left elbow up until your left hand is touching your right hand. Now do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around.
I guess I fibbed. The pretzel just made his appearance.
Can you interlace your fingers?
Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t. I failed this one too. You get a shiny new trophy just for playing and hey, now you know what to work on!
Flexibility in your shoulders is important for daily activities like reaching for that large punch bowl on the top shelf or scratching that confounded itch you never seem to reach.
What Are Good Standing Stretches For Seniors?
Ok, you ready for the meat and potatoes? At the end, I’ll even pour on some gravy at no extra charge.
The below standing stretches are amazing for opening up your chest, back, shoulders, and hips. You can do them on your daily walk, first thing in the morning, or even before bed. Whenever it suits your fancy.
They are gentle enough you can do them every day and feel so good you’ll want to do them often! They relieve joint stiffness and muscle tension.
Did I mention you can do all 4 stretches every day? Ok. I just don’t want to forget.
Standing Cat & Cow
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Arch your back and roll your shoulders toward your back. At the same time, extend your arms backward and twist your wrists so your palms are facing toward the ceiling (or gloomy sky like in the video above). This is the cat part of the movement. Hold for 3 seconds. I think I hear you purring already.
Now slowly round your back like a cow sticking his head into a cud-filled promised land. At the same time, bring your arms toward your center line while rotating your palms the opposite direction. Continue the movement until your back is fully rounded and your thumbs are pointed toward the ground. Hold for 3 seconds.
Repeat 5 times each.
You’ll mostly feel this exercise deep within your chest and upper back. Notice I said deep. Some stretches for your upper back, for example, might be deep (stretching the spine). Some stretches might be superficial (stretching the outer muscles). Both are good and important.
If you rotate your arms, your deep inner shoulder ligaments and tendons will also get a good stretch.
Low Back Opener
I’ll be the first to admit it. I do this exercise all the time. Sometimes I grab the back of the chair. Sometimes a door frame. Sometimes, I even grip the head of one of my four kids before they scamper away.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while facing the back of a chair. Place your hands on the backrest and hinge from your hips as you lower down. Ideally, you should lower to about 90 degrees but don’t go that far if you are especially tight. Bonus points if you are able to get your arms straight. If you can’t, that’s okay too.
Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
You should feel this stretch in your lower and upper back. It’s more of a superficial stretch for your upper back as it stretches that lat muscle which extends from your upper arm into your middle/low back. But this stretch also dives deep and helps improve the mobility of your lower spinal muscles.
A few key points to think about when performing the Low Back Opener
- When you place your weight in the back of a chair, it can sometimes become unstable. Using a table or kitchen counter can be great alternatives with stronger support.
- Come up slowly so you don’t get dizzy.
- Step further from the back of the chair and extend your arms straighter, you’ll get a deeper stretch.
Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes will point slightly outward. Keep your pelvis square in front of you throughout the stretch.
Shift your weight over to the right side by bending the right knee. Shift your weight to about 70/30 (70 percent in your right leg – 30 percent in your left leg). Your left leg will be straight.
Hold for 5 seconds then shift to the other side. Repeat 5 times total.
You’ll feel the stretch in your inner thigh of the leg that is straight. It opens the area where your thigh muscle (femur) connects to the hip socket.
Mistakes To Avoid When Doing The Hip Opener
- Your knees going too far. Don’t let your knees go over your toes.
- Your knees collapsing inward. When shifting your weight onto your bent leg, keep your knee in line with your second toe. This will keep it in perfect alignment.
- Pelvis twisting toward your bent leg. Keep your pelvis squared up in front and don’t allow it to twist.
- Bending at the waist. Some people like to lean a bit while they shift their weight. Don’t do this because it can create too much instability. Keep your torso upright.
- Toes pointed inward too much. For this stretch, your toes should be pointed outward. If your toes are pointed inward, it can put a strain on your knee when you shift your weight.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (seeing a pattern here with your feet? When your feet are shoulder-width it gives you good stability). Keep your weight evenly distributed throughout the standing stretch.
Place your left hand on your waist for stability. Lift your right arm over your head. Slowly bend toward your left side. It’s important to keep your hand on your hip for good support. Bend until you feel a good stretch on the right side of your torso. Hold for 5 seconds then repeat. Switch sides after 3 sets.
You’ll feel the stretch in your right side if you are bending to the left. This is one of those rare standing stretches that target deep and superficial muscles at the same time. You’ll be stretching the deep spinal ligaments on the side of the spine called the Intertransverse ligaments. These ligaments aren’t stretched often so go especially slowly with this stretch.
You’ll also be stretching ligaments between your rib cage and finally superficial muscles in your back.
Stretching Guidelines to Follow for Joint Health
- Go slowly. Don’t pull a Rodney and rush through your standing stretches.
- Keep your feet shoulder-width. I’ve mentioned this throughout the article but it’s important. Keep strong stability.
- Don’t go too far. It can be easy to “over do” a standing stretch because gravity is helping you perform it. Listen to your body. It’s better to ease your way into your standing stretch routine and allow your body to improve it’s flexibility over time. Rather than go too far and injure yourself.
- Take deep slow breaths as you stretch.
- Don’t bounce while you stretch. This increases your risk of injury.
- Only stretch until you feel tension in the muscle. Do not stretch to the point of pain.
- Always warm-up. Before stretching warm -up by moving around for 5 to 10 minutes, such as going for a walk.
Other Ways Seniors Can Improve Flexibility
Stretching is important. But flexibility and mobility are more than just having stretchy muscles. Movement is key. Maybe you enjoy hiking in the morning like me. Or you prefer to pull out that Yoga mat for some deep breathing. Or you prefer swimming exercises with your girlfriends and the local water hole.
It’s essential you stay active. Keep those joints moving, flexible, and strong and you’ll reduce joint pain and enjoy greater independence into your later years.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Do you plan to do these exercises? Have you tried them and found them helpful? I’d love to chat.
To your health!