How to Maximize Flexibility and Up Your Game

By Sandy Schroeder

When you reach down for your shoes, or reach up to get something in the cabinet, does your body may not want to stretch quite as far as usual? Does it seem everything is more of an effort? 

Becoming less flexible can sneak up on all of us, undermining daily tasks, and gradually slowing our pace.  As we age, muscles shorten and elasticity shrinks.  According to the Mayo Clinic, this loss of flexibility can reduce range of motion in the hips, shoulders and spine.  The end result can be a body that is stiffer, more prone to injury, and less powerful in workouts and sports.

Time for Stretching

What to do? Do everything that you can to hang onto your flexibility with regular stretching exercises. When you do, you will be able to power up your game on the court, on the water, or on the green. Plus, you will maintain strength for your daily tasks at work and at home.

Stretching Tips

Carefully choose your targets - Focus on major muscle groups, the calves, hips, thighs, shoulders, lower back, and neck. Stretch muscles and joints that you use to complete your daily tasks.

Go for symmetry and smoothness - Stretch both sides. If you stretch your left hamstring, stretch your right hamstring, too.  Stretch in a smooth movement with no bouncing, which can injure muscles.

Hold your stretch - Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. In problem areas you may need to hold for 60 seconds. Breathe normally as you stretch.  

Try yoga or tai chi – Yoga uses breathing, meditation and individual poses to keep you balanced and flexible. It builds muscles and releases stress.  Tai chi puts minimum stress on muscles and joints, using slow focused movements to improve balance and increase leg strength. It can improve range of motion and balance.   

Avoid pain – Expect tension in stretching, but never pain. If it hurts, you are pushing too far. Drop back until there is no pain and then hold the stretch.

Make stretching a regular thing – Try for two to three times a week to maintain the body benefits that you have set into motion.

Try foam rollers and stretch bands - A foam roller uses your body weight to massage muscles, helping to remove lactic acid so muscles recover more quickly from workouts. Use stretch bands at home to stimulate muscles. Start with good posture, and move slowly to keep a constant tension on the stretch band.

Be careful – If you have an injury or a chronic condition, talk to your chiropractor or doctor to adjust your stretching techniques to your situation.

Overall, just remember what it felt like when you started to reach for something, and had to push to make it. Your body may be telling you to start stretching more to stay in the game.

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