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Muscular Flexibility
Five Simple Stretches

By Darren Buford

Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.


Mention flexibility and most people envision twisting themselves into a pretzel. But as we age, maintaining flexibility is less about being a contortionist and more about the ability to perform everyday activities. This is why regular stretching is especially important to stay limber and prevent atrophy as our bodies mature.

Simple and effective, these exercises can be done before breakfast, while sitting in your chair at the office, while standing in line at the bank or after weathering a stressful situation. Stretching can be particularly effective in preserving, and even increasing, range of motion in the elderly - an important element in preventing falls which may cause serious injury. Achieving total flexibility in just one day isn't possible, but squeezing in a few stretches here and there may help ease tension in tight muscles over time. Besides, it just feels good.

The five exercises featured here can be performed nearly anywhere, anytime, and can be done separately or in combination with one another. Remember, correct technique is essential - stretch slowly and gently and don't allow yourself to bounce. (Imagine your cat's long stretch after napping.)

Also, establish an easy-to-remember regimen. Perhaps begin with upper-body stretches and work down the torso toward the feet. Regardless of your approach, stretching may not transform you into an Olympic gymnast, but it can help make reaching for the cereal on the top shelf or lifting that heavy box of toys more manageable and safer.


Overhead
Straighten the arms toward the ceiling with hands together and palms outward. Once you feel tautness in these areas, hold the pose for 10 seconds.


Shoulders to Ears
Most people centralize stress in their shoulders and upper back. Next time you feel increased tension in this area, take a moment to raise your shoulders slowly toward your ears until you feel your neck tighten, then hold this pose for five seconds. Repeat twice.


Tricep
Pull your right elbow behind your head using your left hand. Do so until you feel the muscles elongate, not until you feel pain. Hold for 10 seconds, and you'll stretch your right shoulder and triceps. Switch arms and repeat the motion.


Hamstring
If you're like most Americans, you spend much of your workday behind the desk, which can wreak havoc on the lower back. While sitting in a chair, grab and hold your right leg just behind the knee. Holding the pose for 10 seconds, you should feel tension in your hamstrings and lower back. Switch legs and repeat the motion.


Inner Thigh
While standing, spread your legs shoulder-length apart and place your hands on your hips. Without moving your feet, slightly bend your right knee. Hold for 10 seconds. This stretch is beneficial for the inner thighs and groin. Switch positions and now bend the left knee and hold for 10 seconds.

Darren Buford is the associate editor for Massage Bodywork magazine.




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