Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — How should I stretch before exercise?

This Q&A was adapted from my just-released-book, Fit over 50: Make Simple Choices Today for a Healthier, Happier You. It was adapted for the September issue of Today’s Christian Living. If you don’t have a subscription, I highly recommend it.

Dear Dr. Walt,

I’ve been told I need to stretch before exercise. Do you recommend any particular technique?

—Stiff in South Dakota

Dear Inelastic,

It is true that one of the biggest issues for all of us as we age is the loss of flexibility, or range of motion (ROM). Reduced ROM can cause problems ranging from inconvenience to injuries. The accumulation, over the years, of injuries to our joints may keep us from doing things we could easily do when we were younger. 

I recommend static stretchingas an effective way to improve ROM and improve the circulation of blood to your muscles. I also recommend stretching your major muscle groups not just before exercise, but at least two to three times weekly. 

When you perform a static stretch, you want to gradually elongate the muscle, hold the elongated position, and then let the muscle return to its resting position. Gradually work toward holding the stretch for 30 seconds in the elongated position. In problem areas, you may hold for 60 seconds. 

For example, if you want to improve the ROM of your low back and hamstrings (muscles on the back of the upper leg), you can slowly and gently bend forward and let gravity stretch the back and legs. Do not continue if you have sharp pain. If you merely feel the stretch and have no pain, you should hold that position for 30 to 60 seconds. 

If your front leg muscles need stretching, just put your right ankle up on your left thigh. Now put your right hand on your right knee and push gently. Just the weight of your hand may be enough. You want to feel stretch in your right thigh, but not pain. If you have pain, stop! Gradually, with repetitions the right knee will move down toward the floor more readily. Now repeat with the left leg. Over time, your range of motion will increase. 

Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders. Make sure you stretch both sides. Also stretch muscles and joints you routinely use. Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscles. 

If you have been inactive (sedentary) and have access to a pool, you may want to stretch and exercise in the water. Exercising in water supports your joints and allows freedom of movement. You can either perform water exercises on your own or in a class. 

Others find that exercise that combines both mental and physical discipline, such as yoga or tai chi, which use a series of body poses, can help to increase balance, strength, and flexibility. You can also find nice infographics, videos, and free resources on flexibility and stretching exercises online at Go4Life (from the National Institute of Aging) at The good news with stretching is that, in the absence of pain, it’s hard to overdo stretching. Although one can become too flexible, this is seldom a problem for us over the age of 50!

Adapted from Fit over 50. Copyright © 2019 by Walt Larimore and Phillip Bishop. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97408. Used by permission.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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