Flexibility: 8 Stretches That Will Stretch Your Workout Routine

Vonda Wright, M.D., on how to stretch your lower back, hamstrings, triceps, and more.

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F is for flexibility: Want to stay limber as you age? If so, your workout routine should include stretches for flexibility. Here are the exercises from our 10-week workout program that will help you:

Here's what you need to know about building flexibility into your workout routine, adapted from Fitness After 40 by Vonda Wright, M.D.

Flexibility is the ability of muscle to lengthen and allow your joints to move through a full range of motion. Maintaining muscle flexibility increases athletic performance, improves running economy (energy expenditure at a given speed), prevents injury, decreases soreness, and hastens rehabilitation following injury.

Once you work up to it, you must stretch every day for 15 minutes. If morning doesn't work for you, take 45 minutes at lunch instead of an hour, and use the other 15 to stretch. You can break the stretching regimen up over the course of the day and do one body part at a time.

For people under 65 years old, maximum benefit is achieved with a slow muscle stretch until the muscle feels tight but doesn't hurt. Once you reach this place, hold the stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. After 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then repeat the stretch for a maximum of four repetitions. If you are older than 65, you need to hold the stretch for 60 seconds. It takes about six weeks of consistent stretching to see good results, and then you must maintain your muscle length by continuing daily stretches.

Seated Trapezius Stretch
1. Turn your chin to the right and toward your chest.
2. Place your right hand over the top of your head, and gently pull your head down toward the right (photo). You will feel a stretch in your left trapezius, and if you touch the left side of your neck with your left hand, you will feel the tight muscle being stretched. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, and then relax. Repeat this stretch four times, remembering to breathe.
3. Switch chin direction to the left. Place your left hand over the top of your head, and gently pull down to stretch your right side.
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Seated trapezius stretch
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Shoulder stretch
Shoulder Stretch
1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
2. Raise your right arm up to shoulder height, and move it across the front of your body.
3. With your left arm, pull the right arm as close to your chest as possible, and hold it for 30 seconds (photo). You should feel the stretch across the back of your shoulder. Repeat this four times, then switch to the left side.
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Triceps stretch
Triceps Stretch
1. With your feet shoulder width apart, raise your right arm straight up and over your head.
2. Bend your elbow so that your right hand is reaching for your left shoulder.
3. Use your left hand to press back on your right elbow (photo). You will feel a great stretch in the back of your arm and upper shoulder.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat four times on each side.
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Lower back A
Lower Back
1. Begin on your knees.
2. Place your hands in front of you on an exercise ball or the seat of a chair.
3. While keeping your back flat, reach forward with your arms, and lower your buttocks to your feet (photo A). You will feel a stretch along the sides of your back.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, while breathing, then relax. Repeat four times.
5. Next, place your hands shoulder width apart on the ground. It will look as if you are crawling.
6. Gently arch your back toward the ceiling, and tuck your buttocks in (photo B). Hold, and repeat four times. After the last arch, lower your buttocks to your heels with your arms stretched out in front, and let your back relax.
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Lower back B

Hip Flexor Stretch in Three Planes
1. Start by standing with feet together.
2. Step forward onto the right leg while keeping your knee aligned above your ankle and your hips forward.
3. Raise both of your hands above your head as you lean forward. You should feel a gentle stretch in the front of your back leg.
4. Then, lean toward the right leg, and raise your left arm over your head. The stretch will move to include your left side as well as the front of your back leg.
5. Finally, raise your left arm above your body, and twist it to behind your body. This opens up the left side of your body.
6. Hold each position for 30 seconds, and then switch legs and repeat all three positions four times.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Hamstring stretch
Hamstring Stretch
1. Lie down with the small of your back against the floor.
2. Bend your left knee to 90 degrees to stabilize your hips.
3. Slowly raise your right leg off the ground with the knee as straight as possible. Your right hip should not rise off the floor, and the motion should come only from your hip (photo).
4. As your foot approaches vertical, you will feel a stretch in the back of your leg.
5. Hold your leg in this raised position for 30 seconds.
6. After 30 seconds, relax your knee, and then repeat three times before switching to the left leg.

Quadriceps Stretch
1. Stand with feet together and hips straight.
2. Bend your right knee back, and take the front of your right foot in your right hand.
3. Keeping your knees even (i.e., do not let your right knee swing forward), bend your right knee back. You will feel a stretch in the front of your leg from above your hip to your knee. Do not allow your posture to curve forward, but keep standing straight up.
4. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then relax. Repeat this four times, and then switch to the left quad.

Calf Stretch
1. Stand with your feet shoulder length apart and your hands against a chair or a wall.
2. Keep your heels on the floor and your knees straight while leaning into the chair or wall (photo A). You will feel this stretch down the back of your legs.
3. Hold for 30 seconds. Then bend your knees, and continue leaning in (photo B). Hold with bent knees for 30 seconds, then repeat with straight and bent knees four times.

Calf Stretch
1. Stand with your feet shoulder length apart and your hands against a chair or a wall.
2. Keep your heels on the floor and your knees straight while leaning into the chair or wall (photo A). You will feel this stretch down the back of your legs.
3. Hold for 30 seconds. Then bend your knees, and continue leaning in (photo B). Hold with bent knees for 30 seconds, then repeat with straight and bent knees four times.

(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Calf stretch A
(Laura Petrilla Photography)

Calf stretch B

Check out the rest of our 10-Week Workout designed by Vonda Wright, M.D., including our sections on aerobic, load-carrying, and equilibrium exercises.

Excerpted from FITNESS AFTER 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age
by Vonda Wright, M.D., with Ruth Winter, M.S.
© 2009 Vonda Wright and Ruth Winter
Published by AMACOM Books
www.amacombooks.org