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How Do I Start Stretching After 50?

Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was wipe the sleep out of your eyes, enjoy a long stretch in the morning, and your entire body would be primed and ready for the day? That would be living the dream.

a woman sitting in a stretching position on an exercise mat being helped by a coach
How to I start stretching after 50?
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If You Are New To Stretching

If you’re new to the art of stretching, don’t let your lack of know-how and experience scare you off. Everyone was new to it at some point, so you are not alone at all. Many people have been there before you, and believe it not; many people will be new to stretching after you! The most significant piece of advice we can give you is to be gentle without mistaking your 50+ body for an overly delicate piece of equipment. Just because you’re 50+, it doesn’t mean you’re fragile; it just means you have to take care to do the stretches and exercises the right way. You will be surprised what your body can achieve if you adopt a can-do mindset and just do it.


Here’s what all newbies to stretching should keep in mind:

Don’t try to be a hero. We know you want to run into the room, slide down onto your knees, and bound right back up again like you’re Tom Cruise in Risky Business, but that’s only going to end in pain and disappointment for you. Maybe that’s something to work your way up to and not try on the first stretch day. Easy does it because the slower you go and the more you practice, the easier it will be and the more flexible you will become.


Stop comparing your flexibility to other people.

If you look across the workout room and see another 50+er putting their leg behind their head and achieving all manner of outstanding pretzel-like shapes with their body, this isn’t a sign that you have to be the same. How far you stretch and how flexible you are is relative to your life. Do you really need to stretch your leg behind your head? It would be a great trick to show the grandkids, but they would probably prefer a grandmother or grandfather who can pick them up, push them on the swing or have a jog around the garden with them.


Never rock or bounce while stretching.

It might feel like you are working your muscle more intensely when all you’re really doing is welcoming an injury. Rocking and bouncing can push beyond the range of motion which can be detrimental. Be consistent. Stretching once a week is just not enough. At the very least, you should practice your full stretch routine three times a week, but we recommend doing at least some stretching every single day.

A woman sitting on a mat stretching forward pulling her hands around her feet.
Stretching: Be gentle without mistaking your 50+ body for an overly delicate piece of equipment.

We do different stretches throughout our lifespans.

First, there are morning stretches, usually accompanied by a yawn and (hopefully) the smell of a fresh pot of coffee. Then there are stretches you do every couple of hours over the workday to keep your muscles mobile and flexible (accompanied by moans and groans of all the work piling up). And then there are the stretches you do before exercise, after exercise, and as exercise. All of these stretches that are very much part of our everyday lives can divide into two main groups: Static stretching (this is done without moving, think of stretching and holding), and Dynamic stretching (this is done with movement, think of fluid and repetitive stretching motions).


Stretching After 50

In your quest for a stronger, healthier, and more flexible you, we encourage you to indulge in both dynamic and static stretching. There's no official requirement for you to know the precise intricacies of both stretch types, but you should understand what is happening when you do these stretches and why they are important for your 50+ body. When you carry out a static stretch, which is done in one position and with the muscle held for a certain amount of seconds before it’s relaxed, you’re extending the muscle.


Static Stretching

Static stretching elongates and extends the muscle. For a 50+ club member, that means improved flexibility and a greater range of motion. It also means stress and tension relief from your muscles so that your body can be more relaxed and your muscles and joints can fall into better alignment. Sometimes it can seem like you need a medical or physiotherapy qualification to understand just what’s happening when you carry out a type of stretch, but you don’t! To make the science behind static stretching easier to understand, we’ve broken down the sub-stretches that fall into this category:


Traditional

This is a slow and steady stretch where a group of muscles is put under tension, held in place, then slowly relaxed. Then the body is moved once more to increase tension on the muscles and held in position to allow for the muscles to elongate. The aim is to hold the muscle stretched between fifteen and twenty seconds. This is a great form of stretching for 50+ers because it’s slow and steady, easy to do, and there’s minimal risk of injury.


Assisted Static Stretching

This is also referred to as passive stretching. In such instances, you would have the help of another person or equipment to intensify the stretch. This movement will stretch the muscle slightly further than if you just did a static stretch unaided. As a result, there is a risk of injury if the muscle is pushed too far.


Active Stretching

This type of stretching uses the power of the opposing muscles to stretch a certain muscle or group of muscles. The stretched muscles are relaxed by the contraction of the opposing muscles.


You can try an active stretch at home as follows:

-Stand in one position and make sure that you’re well balanced.

-Raise one leg in front of you as high as you can.

-Maintain this position without holding onto anything or getting assistance from anyone. Use the strength of the opposing muscles to hold you in position.

-After holding this position for fifteen seconds, lower your leg down to the original position.


Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, aka PNF

You can thank a certain Dr. Herman Kabat for this one. He developed the stretch for polio patients in the 1940s to help them develop more flexibility and mobility. This stretch is a little more intense than the others as you push your muscle to its limit but stop before you injure yourself or strain the muscle. There should be a fifteen-second rest between each of these stretches, which must be held for 30 seconds at a time.


Isometric Static Stretching

While isometric stretching is similar to PNF, it is actually more intense and requires more strength. Because of this, it is only recommended for people who know what they are doing and who are already fully developed (not for children). With isometric stretching, each muscle group is stretched and held for around fifteen seconds. There is a twenty-second rest between stretches. These stretches are very demanding on your muscles. Using a resistance band is a form of isometric stretching.


Advice for Static Stretching

-Warm up your muscles before stretching.

-Stretch all areas slowly and gently.

-Make sure you are well-balanced before you start.

-Don’t aim for pain. Pain is not a sign of a good stretch.

-Focus on the muscle you’re stretching.

-Pay attention to your posture while stretching.


Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is a little different in that it requires fluid movements. Essentially, you’re measuring how far you can turn, reach or bend when you’re doing dynamic stretches. Your aim is to achieve maximum range of motion and flexibility. At first, you might try five stretches and try to work your way up to ten. If you’re just getting active again, start with a few and aim to keep adding to your stretches as the days go by. If you’re going to play a sport such as soccer, basketball, tennis, or even go for a run, dynamic stretching can be beneficial. It prepares the muscle for several repetitions of a movement.


Types of Dynamic Stretches

Unlike static stretching, which improves flexibility and range of motion, dynamic stretching improves speed, acceleration, and agility. It gives the muscle the power to change directions quickly and even come to a halt on command. The muscle is ready for whatever it encounters. These types of dynamic stretches include:


Ballistic stretching

Ballistic stretching is not a common form of stretching because of the high risk of injury often associated with it. It involves bouncing motions, which have no place in your stretch routine, as we have already told you. We don’t recommend trying this type of stretching at home.


Active Isolated Stretches

Active Isolated was developed by A. Mattes and is a relatively new form of stretching. This stretch works for the most part by well-trained or professional athletes and is only held for a few seconds. This works by forcing the stretched muscles to relax by contracting the opposing muscles, thus releasing tight muscles.


Resistance stretching

Resistance stretching is a form of stretching that contracts and extends the muscle at the same time. These stretches work through an entire muscle group and extend the range of motion during the contraction, thus strengthening the muscle. Someone with sore shoulders could do a dynamic shoulder stretch to relax the muscles and reduce pain. This is how you do it. Relax both of your shoulders while standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Position one arm across your body and hold it in place with your other arm, just above your elbow. Pull your arm gently towards your body and notice the slight stretch in the back of the shoulder. Repeat this stretch a few times on both sides for the best results.


How Do We Breathe while Stretching?

If someone asked you how you breathe when you stretch, you’d probably wonder what they meant. How do you breathe? What an absurd question! The same way you normally do, right? Unfortunately, that’s where you’re wrong. Most people find that they hold their breath when they do an exercise, whether it is a weighted exercise or a simple stretch. And we’re willing to bet you’re the same. If you’ve ever experienced pain, upset, panic, or anger in your life, someone might have said to you, “Just breathe through it!” And that’s because breathing is at the very heart of everything we do. If you’ve got your breathing under control, you’re in control. And this is how you need to be when you’re stretching. Relaxed but in control.


While it might seem like an unimportant aspect of stretching and exercising, breathing is actually essential to the process. If you’re not breathing correctly, you’re not getting the most out of the exercise – what’s the point of that?! Breathing delivers oxygen to the rest of your body, ensuring that your muscles and organs are operating at peak potential when you’re putting them to work. Deep breaths also tell the body you are calm and relaxed, which also means you’re less likely to suffer an injury from being rigid, stiff, or tense. The rule of thumb is to exhale on exertion. This means that you should breathe out when you’re working the hardest. When stretching, exhale as you deepen into the stretch you are doing.


Getting Started

And here, ladies and gents, is where the real work begins. Now that you’re equipped with the many reasons why you should be doing stretching, you’re on the precipice of taking the first step and actually getting started. Now is the time to bid a fond farewell to all the excuses of the past. Today is the day you say bye-bye to the aches, pains, and negative thought patterns that you meekly accepted as part of life on your 50th birthday. You’re not a statistic. You’re not “old.” Old is a state of mind, and we’re about to teach you how to train your body through simple daily stretches that will leave you slimmer, trimmer, stronger, and more energetic than you’ve been in years.


First things first, you need to prepare for stretching, plan a stretching routine, and understand what healthy aging is all about – see our article on Daily Stretching.


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