Flexibility: The first step
As we grow older, we learn to grow more flexible in life. We learn to give and take in situations and bend for others when it isn’t always convenient. As our personalities become more flexible, however, our muscles have a natural tendency to tighten with age. We need to loosen up… literally! Flexibility is absolutely imperative to work on as we age, and it is also the first step in F.A.C.E.-ing your future.
Many of my patients who come in with injuries are very active agers, but stiff as a board! Flexibility is the ability to lengthen muscle and allow joints to move through a full range of motion. Besides from improving posture (and that golf swing!), increased flexibility means:
- Improved athletic performance
- Decreased soreness
- Injury prevention
- Accelerated rehabilitation following injury
When patients come in with muscles brittle like an old rubber band (or “gumband” if you’re from Pittsburgh), they are not limited by their age, but by the length of their muscles. Don’t let this happen to you!
We’ve all seen elderly people walking stooped over with bent knees. Did you know that this is largely a result of the tightening and shortening of muscles? The hamstring actually shortens with disuse, but the femur (thigh bone) doesn’t. To compensate, the knees bend, and the result is looking frail and old. We can avoid this by taking care your muscles in just 15 minutes a day.
One thing you need to know about flexibility is that you must work on it every single day. It doesn’t matter when, just that you do it. You can do this while watching TV or during your lunch break, or you can break it up throughout the day. As Nike says, just do it! In Chapter six, I outline ways to work on flexibility through foam rolling, dynamic stretching, and static stretching.
- Roll it up. If you do yet own a foam roller, now is the time! The foam roller is essentially a rolling pin for your muscles and tendons. It is a great way to work on tight problem areas tissue that is hard to stretch. I suggest foam rolling after a hot shower. It will leave you limber all day! Chapter six outlines techniques to get you started.
- Warm it up. The next aspect of flexibility is dynamic stretching and warm-up. A good warm-up increases blood flow to muscles and allows you to maximize your workout and prevent injury. Dynamic stretching and warm-ups keep you moving as you stretch, rather than standing in one place, taking you from “cold” to “ready to go.” Chapter six outlines dynamic stretches that will get your body ready before any type of exercise, such as hip circles and lunges.
- Stretch it out. Last but not least, chapter six explains static stretching techniques for all muscle groups. A guideline for stretching if you are under 65 is to slowly stretch a muscle until it is tight but doesn’t hurt. Then you should hold that stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing. After that, rest for 10 seconds, and then repeat the stretch up to four times. After 65, this changes to 60 seconds. If you do this daily (it should only take about two minutes to stretch each muscle group) you will see results in six weeks.
The best way to incorporate a flexibility plan is to add a new stretch daily until it is second nature. So start with foam rolling right now, add the first exercise in my dynamic stretching and warm-up sequence tomorrow, and you’ll be adding static stretching by next week.
For more my full flexibility guide, check out chapter six in Fitness After 40, Second Edition. So what are you waiting for? Get rolling!