6 Easy Stretches
Feeling stiff? Experiencing back pain or muscle tightness? Add stretches to your daily exercise routine to ease stiffness and improve balance.
Stretching Best Practices
As we age, muscles can get tight and stiff. The more stiff we feel, the less we use muscles—it can become a cycle of inactivity. Adding stretches to your morning ritual can increase flexibility and improve balance.
Before you get started, a few guidelines:
- Warm up before you stretch. You can simply march in place for a minute or two.
- While you’re stretching, focus on your breathing. Breathing assists with total body relaxation.
- Hold each stretch to a point of mild discomfort, not pain.
- Keep your body under control. When stretching one area, try to maintain upright posture and stability in your other body parts. For example, while stretching your legs, keep your back straight and your head up.
- Hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds. You can repeat each stretch two or three times.
- Try to stretch every day or a minimum of three times a week.
Standing Lateral Reach
This stretch helps lengthen the lateral back muscles, which can ease lower-back pain and improve posture.
Step 1: Stand with your feet hip width apart, body weight evenly distributed. Reach both arms straight up with fingertips to the ceiling. With shoulders relaxed, attempt to bring your biceps toward your ears.
Step 2: With the left hand, grasp the right wrist. Continue to reach upward as you lean the shoulders and rib cage to the left side, staying upright as if you were pressed between two sheets of glass. Keep the right bicep as close to your ear as possible.
Step 3: Hold for 15–30 seconds and then return to the center, changing your wrist grip and repeating on the other side.
Standing Knee to Chest
This move helps with balance, strength, and stability while lengthening muscles in your lower back and hips. It can be done while seated or lying on your back.
Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your right knee and draw it up toward your chest by grasping just below the knee or behind the thigh with both hands to create a grip point. If you cannot maintain balance with both hands holding up your knee, put one hand on a chair or wall for support.
Step 2: Pull the knee toward your body while maintaining a tall posture. With each breath, try to bring your knee a little closer to the chest and torso.
Step 3: Hold for 15–30 seconds, breathing and balancing, then release and switch sides.
This stretch opens your hips and lengthens hamstrings in the legs.
Step 1: Stand with feet wider than hip width apart, pointing your toes out slightly. Keep your weight
Step 2: Lean to the left, flexing your right knee while lengthening the left leg as you press into the hip. Stay upright as you lean to the side. You can place your hand on your thigh for help with balance. If you want to incorporate your back, extend your left arm up, fingertips reaching toward the ceiling.
Step 3: Hold for 15–30 seconds, then release and switch sides.
This stretch (often used in physical therapy) opens muscles deep in the hips and can ease lower-back pain, tightness, and discomfort, particularly after sitting for prolonged periods.
Step 1: Lie on your back, placing the left foot on the floor with the knee bent toward the ceiling; draw your right knee up into your chest.
Step 2: Cross the right leg over the left knee by resting your right ankle on the your thigh just above the knee.
Step 3: Reaching through the legs, clasp your hands together on the left knee (under or on top), creating a grip point. Pull the knee toward the body, feeling the stretch in the right hip. Use your elbow to add more leverage to the stretch. Hold and repeat on the other leg.
This common yoga stretch relaxes and stretches your arms, sides, and lower back.
Step 1: Begin on your hands and knees, with hands placed slightly in front of the shoulders with fingers spread and knees directly under the hips. Relax your feet so your shoelaces are resting on the floor.
Step 2: Push your hips back, allowing them to rest as close to the heels as possible as you lengthen your body and reach your arms out on the floor in front of you, as if someone were grasping your wrists and pulling your arms longer.
Step 3: Tuck your chin and relax into the pose, holding the position for up to 60 seconds.
Cat and Cow Stretch
These stretches move the spine through healthy ranges of flexion and extension, which lubricates the spine and connects breathing and movement.
Step 1: Begin on your hands and knees, with hands placed directly under the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. The spine should be neutral and your head relaxed.
Cat: For cat pose, round the back, dropping the head and tucking the tailbone. Exhale as you arch your back toward the ceiling.
Cow: For cow pose, arch the back by dropping the belly, lifting the chin, and opening the chest and throat, taking full, deep breaths. Move between the two stretches three to five times.
Fitness experts often use rollers in floor exercises. You lie on top of the roller and roll your body over it, focusing on one muscle group at a time. Here is one stretch to try with a roller:
Step 1: Sit on the floor. Place the roller behind you and lie back, resting your spine lengthwise on top of the roller. Your neck and head should be in contact with the roller.
Step 2: Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. If you struggle with balance on top of the roller, widen your feet for more stability. Allow the weight of your body and head to be fully supported by the roller.
Step 3: Reach arms toward the ceiling, palms facing each other, directly above your shoulders. Like scissors, drop one arm behind your head toward the floor while the other arm simultaneously drops down by your side. Continue this scissor motion for 30–45 seconds.