With everything life throws us, staying physically active as we age seems to get increasingly difficult to work into our schedule. After all, following a hard week’s work, the couch and a cool refreshment sound more appealing than hitting the treadmill. A sedentary lifestyle not only has consequences for your heart and lungs, it can also cause your joints to lose their ability to move through a complete range of motion, causing you to lose flexibility. “So? I’m not a gymnast,” you may say, but flexibility plays a very important role in even the smallest daily activities.
Flexibility helps to prevent everyday injury:
- Muscle and disk strains that occur when turning over or getting out of bed
- Shoulder strains that result from doing tasks that involve lifting
- Backaches due to transitioning from a seated position to standing
- Bending down to pick something up (or starting the lawnmower)
- Walking up and down a flight of stairs
Flexibility can even improve your circulation and posture.
Although a decrease in flexibility affects everyone, the Fit After 40 series — a compellation of articles pinpointing health and fitness issues facing men over the age of 40 — aims to stave off the negative effects of aging, inside and out. With professional advice and workout plans from physical trainers at various Texas Health Fitness Centers across the metroplex, we hope we can kickstart your fitness routine so you can keep achieving as you age, whether you’re a weekend warrior or not
Logan Collins, a certified personal trainer and fitness center coordinator at Texas Health Prosper, says he knows firsthand the importance of improving flexibility — something he learned the hard way after numerous muscle and tendon tears that required surgery.
“Even those of us who are blessed with being naturally limber can improve our flexibility through stretching, especially as we get older,” he says. “Flexibility is often overlooked and always underestimated when it comes to overall health!”
Collins and Tricia Mantle, a personal trainer at Texas Health Prosper with a background in yoga, both note that the hamstrings take the crown as the most incorrectly-stretched muscles among their gym members. Tight hamstrings can lead to reduced pelvic mobility, which can also lead to lower back pain, which is already a common complaint as we get older.
The following workout is specially created by Collins and Mantle to address tight hamstrings and ease into flexibility exercises. Give them a try before and after a workout and Collins says, “it won’t take long to start feeling the benefits!”
The following stretches are referred to as “static,” or positions held for a certain length of time. Hold each for 30 seconds, unless otherwise noted, and repeat five times before moving on to the next stretch. They can be done three to five times a day, but if you’re already pretty flexible, Collins and Mantle say once a day in the evening is often enough to maintain flexibility.
Bent Knee Stretch
“Bending forward with straight legs is great if you can do it, but it’s not the best choice if you’re having trouble moving even a few inches forward in the straight leg stretch position,” Mantle says.
To take the slack off of your calves and hamstring attachments at the knees, add a slight bend to your knees. Instead of focusing on perfectly straight legs, focus on maintaining a flat or slightly arched back and keep your chest up and hinge forward at your hips.
Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat three times, trying to extend the legs a little straighter each time.
Static Stretch – Seated
Sit on the floor with the leg to be stretched straight out in front of you and the other bent out of the way. Think about making an L shape with your legs.
Rotate the straight leg inward and lean forward at the hips to feel a stretch under the thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Collins suggests repeating this stretch at least five times throughout the day and says it can also be repeated with the foot turned outward.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Stand with the leg to be stretched propped up just in front of the other one. Bend the back knee and lean forward from the hips. Place your hands on the bent thigh to balance yourself. If you can’t feel a stretch, lean further forward or tilt your pelvis forward. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat regularly throughout the day.
Lying Hamstring Stretch
Stretch the hamstring muscles by lying on your back keeping one leg on the ground and lifting one leg up and toward your face. You can use your hands to help hold your leg in position.
“This targets the muscle fibers near the knee, whereas the sitting hamstring stretch stretches the muscle fiber higher up the muscle, closer to the buttocks,” Collins says.
Dynamic stretching differs from static in that it involves gentle swings of the leg forward and backward, gradually getting higher and higher each time. Around 10 to 15 swings of each leg should be enough.
Dynamic stretches can be done early in the morning (be careful not to force it) as this will set the length of muscle for the rest of the day. Dynamic stretching should also always be done prior to fast, explosive exercise as part of a warm-up. Need a great warm-up? Head to our first post to get a detailed “back to basics” warm-up and exercise routine!
Whether you choose to follow static or dynamic stretches, Collins says it is important to avoid bouncing while stretching, as it can overload your joints, making matters worse. As for the golden rule of stretching, Collins and Mantle both recommend never forcing any stretch, no matter how badly you want to get just a little further. An injury will only set you back even further from your fitness goals.
Texas Health fitness centers not only provide a wide variety of gym equipment, but staff members can help explain and demonstrate how to properly use a piece of equipment or how to perform a certain exercise, giving you the base knowledge you need to make the most of your workout.
At a Texas Health fitness center, you don’t need a perfect body, and you don’t need fancy attire. All you need is the determination to feel and look your best. To learn more about the fitness programs at our hospital-based centers, visit TexasHealth.org/Fitness.