Office Exercises: Stretching
National Institute on Aging
About Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises are thought to give you more freedom of movement to do the things you need to do and the things you like to do. Stretching exercises alone will not improve your endurance or strength.
How Much, How Often?
Stretch after you do your regularly scheduled strength and endurance exercises.
If you can’t do endurance or strength exercises for some reason, and stretching exercises are the only kind you are able to do, do them at least 3 times a week, for at least 20 minutes each session. Note that stretching exercises, by themselves, don’t improve endurance or strength.
Do each stretching exercise 3 to 5 times at each session.
Slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.
If you have had a hip replacement, check with the doctor who did your surgery before doing lower body exercises.
If you have had a hip replacement, don’t cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90-degree angle.
Always warm up before stretching exercises (do them after endurance or strength exercises, for example; or, if you are doing only stretching exercises on a particular day, do a little bit of easy walking and arm-pumping first). Stretching your muscles before they are warmed up may result in injury.
Stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain. If it does, you are stretching too far, and you need to reduce the stretch so that it doesn’t hurt.
Mild discomfort or a mild pulling sensation is normal.
Never “bounce” into a stretch; make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position can cause muscles to tighten, possibly resulting in injury.
Avoid “locking” your joints into place when you straighten them during stretches. Your arms and legs should be straight when you stretch them, but don’t lock them in a tightly straight position. You should always have a very small amount of bending in your joints while stretching.
You can progress in your stretching exercises; the way to know how to limit yourself is that stretching should never hurt. It may feel slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. Push yourself to stretch farther, but not so far that it hurts.
About Floor Exercises
Most of the remaining exercises are done on the floor and stretch some very important muscle groups. If you are afraid to lie on the floor to exercise, because you think you won’t be able to get back up, consider using the buddy system to do these. Adopt a buddy who will be able to provide assistance if you need it.
Knowing the right way to get into a lying position on the floor and the right way to get back up also may be helpful to you. If you have had a hip replacement, check with your surgeon before using the following method. If you have osteoporosis, check with your doctor first.
To get into a lying position:
1. Stand next to a very sturdy chair that won’t tip over (put chair against wall for support if you need to).
2. Put your hands on the seat of the chair.
3. Lower yourself down on one knee.
4. Bring the other knee down.
5. Put your left hand on the floor and lean on it as you bring your left hip to the floor.
6. Your weight is now on your left hip.
7. Straighten your legs out.
8. Lie on your left side.
9. Roll onto your back.
Note: You don’t have to use your left side. You can use your right side, if you prefer.
To get up from a lying position:
1. Roll onto your left side.
2. Use your right hand, placed on the floor at about the level of your ribs, to push your shoulders off the floor.
3. Your weight is on your left hip.
4. Roll forward, onto your knees, leaning on your hands for support.
5. Lean your hands on the seat of the chair you used to lie down.
6. Lift one of your knees so that one leg is bent, foot flat on the floor.
Leaning your hands on the seat of the chair for support, rise from this position.
Note: You don’t have to use your left side; you can reverse positions, if you prefer.
Stretches muscles in back of thigh. Sit sideways on a bench or other hard surface (such as two chairs placed side by side) without leaning back against anything and with your back and shoulders straight. Your left leg should be resting on the bench, toes pointing up. Your right leg should be resting over the side of the bench, with your right foot flat on the floor. If your left knee is bent, stretch to get it to lie flat on the bench. If you feel a stretch at this point, hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. If your left leg is flat on the bench and you don’t feel a stretch, lean forward slowly from the hips (not the waist) until you do, keeping your back and shoulders straight the entire time (note: omit this part if you have had a hip replacement – don’t lean forward, unless your surgeon or physical therapist approves). Stop and hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Reverse the position so that you stretch your right leg in the same way. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.
1. Sit sideways on bench.
2. Keep one leg stretched out on bench, straight.
3. Keep other leg off of bench, with foot flat on floor.
4. Straighten back.
5. Lean forward from hips (not waist) till you feel stretching in leg on bench, keeping back and shoulders straight. Omit this step if you have had a hip replacement, unless surgeon/therapist approves.
6. Hold position.
7. Repeat with other leg.
Stretches muscles in the back of the thigh. Stand behind a chair, with your legs straight. Hold the back of the chair with both hands. Bend forward from your hips (not your waist), keeping your entire back and shoulders straight the whole time, until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Don’t “hump” any part of your back or shoulders at any time. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the backs of your thighs. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
1. Stand behind chair, holding the back of it with both hands.
2. Bend forward from the hips, keeping back and shoulders straight at all times.
3. When upper body is parallel to floor, hold position.
Stretches lower leg muscles in two ways: with knee straight and knee bent. While standing, place your hands on a wall, with arms outstretched, elbows straight. Keeping your left knee slightly bent, toes of right foot slightly turned inward, move your right foot back one or two feet, with your right heel and foot flat on the floor. You should feel a stretch in your right calf muscle, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. If you don’t feel a stretch, move your right foot farther back until you do. Keep your right knee straight and hold that position for 10 to 30 seconds. Continuing to keep your right heel and foot on the floor, bend your right knee and hold for another 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat with opposite leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.
1. Stand with hands against wall, arms straight.
2. Step back 1-2 feet with one leg, heel and foot flat on floor.
3. Hold position.
4. Bend knee of stepped-back leg, keeping heel and foot flat on floor.
5. Hold position.
Stretches front ankle muscles. Remove your shoes. Sit toward the front edge of a chair and lean back, using pillows to support your back. Slide your feet away from the chair, in front of you, so your legs are outstretched. With your heels still on the floor, point your toes away from you until you feel a stretch in the front part of your ankles. If you don’t feel a stretch, lift your heels slightly off the floor while doing this exercise. Hold the position briefly. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
1. Sit in chair.
2. Stretch legs out in front of you, feet off of floor.
3. Bend ankles to point feet toward you.
4. Bend ankles to point feet away from you.
5. If you don’t feel the stretch, repeat with your feet slightly off the floor.
Stretches muscles in back of upper arm. Hold one end of a towel in your right hand. Raise your right arm; then bend your right elbow so that the towel drapes down your back. Keep your right arm in this position, and continue holding onto the towel. With your left hand, reach behind your lower back and grasp the other end (the bottom end) of the towel. Gradually grasp higher and higher up the towel with your left hand, as high as you can. As you do this, you will find that it also pulls your right arm down. Continue until your hands touch, or as close to that as you can comfortably go. Reverse positions.
1. Hold towel in right hand.
2. Raise and bend right arm to drape towel down back.
3. Grasp bottom end of towel with left hand.
4. Climb left hand progressively higher up towel, which also pulls your right arm down.
5. Reverse positions.
6. Repeat with other leg.
Press your hands together, elbows down. Raise your elbows as nearly parallel to the floor as possible, while keeping your hands together. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
1. Place hands together, in praying position.
2. Slowly raise elbows so arms are parallel to ground, keeping hands flat against each other.
3. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds.
4. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Lie on your left side, on the floor. Your hips should be lined up so that the right one is directly above the left one. Rest your head on a pillow or your left hand. Bend your right knee, reach back with your right hand, and hold onto your right heel. If you can’t reach your heel with your hand, loop a belt over your right foot. Pull slightly (with your hand or with the belt) until the front of your right thigh feels stretched. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Reverse position and repeat with other leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side. If the back of your thigh cramps during this exercise, stretch your leg and try again, more slowly.
1. Lie on side.
2. Rest head on pillow or hand.
3. Bend knee that is on top.
4. Grab heel of that leg.
5. Gently pull that leg until front of thigh stretches.
6. Hold position.
7. Reverse position and repeat.
(Don’t do this exercise if you have had a hip replacement, unless your surgeon approves.) Stretches outer muscles of hips and thighs. Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on floor. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, with your knees bent and together, gently lower both knees to one side as far as possible without forcing them. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds, then bring knees back to center and repeat on opposite side. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.
1. Don’t do this exercise if you have had a hip replacement, unless your surgeon approves.
2. Lie on floor, knees bent.
3. Keep shoulders on floor at all times.
4. Keeping knees together, lower legs to one side.
5. Hold position.
6. Return legs to upright position.
7. Repeat toward other side.
Stretches muscles of pelvis and inner thigh. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Let your right knee slowly lower to the right, keeping your left leg and your pelvis in place. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Bring your right knee slowly back to place. Repeat the exercise with your left leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side. Keep your shoulders on the floor throughout the exercise.
1. Lie on floor.
2. Bend knees.
3. Let one knee slowly lower to side.
4. Hold position.
5. Bring knee back up.
6. Keep shoulders on floor throughout exercise.
7. Repeat with other knee.
Stretches shoulder muscles. Lie on the floor with a pillow under your head, legs straight. If your back bothers you, place a rolled towel under your knees. Stretch your arms straight out to the side, on the floor. Your upper arms will remain on the floor throughout this exercise. Bend at the elbow so that your hands are pointing toward the ceiling. Let your arms slowly roll backwards from the elbow. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort, and stop immediately if you feel a pinching sensation or a sharp pain. Slowly raise your arms, still bent at the elbow, to point toward the ceiling again. Then let your arms slowly roll forward, remaining bent at the elbow, to point toward your hips. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort. Alternate pointing above your head, then toward the ceiling, then toward your hips in this manner. Begin and end with the pointing-above-the-head position. Hold each position 10 to 30 seconds. Keep your shoulders flat on the floor throughout. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
1. Lie flat on floor, pillow under head.
2. Stretch arms out to side.
3. Bend elbows to crook lower arms downward, at right angle.
4. Hold position.
5. Bend elbows to crook lower arms upward, at right angle.
6. Hold position.
7. Keep shoulders flat on floor throughout.
Stretches neck muscles. Lie on the floor with a phone book or other thick book under your head, then slowly turn your head from side to side, holding position for 10 to 30 seconds on each side. Your head should not be tipped forward or backward, but should be in a comfortable position. You can keep your knees bent to keep your back comfortable during this exercise. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
1. Lie on back.
2. Turn head from side to side, holding position each time.