Sorry to break it to you but we’re all getting older. This has well documented effects on our muscle strength, tightness and endurance. We all start to hunch over waiting for life’s inevitable conclusion. But wait! Before we get too morbid and consign ourselves to the scrap heap there is hope.
Whilst ageing inevitably effects us (starting aged 25 for any smug youngsters out there!) in ways we would rather it didn’t there is so much we can do to minimise its impact. Over the years at the clinic we’ve seen distinct patterns in the injuries we see being caused by the muscles tightening that pull is into that ageing posture.
So to help you stay young, lithe and injury free we’ve put together some stretches specifically designed to counter act that ageing look that we all want to avoid. You don’t get this kind of service from your average Sports Therapist. Caring and sharing to the extreme!
What Does Ageing Do To Us?
I’ve intentionally picked an extreme example in the picture to the left to illustrate the points I want to raise. This is exactly what we’re trying to get you to avoid in later life! The head comes down and forwards looking at the ground for fear of falling over.
The back becomes very curved and it just looks like hard work to get around. We look tired. Gravity starts to win the fight to pull us forwards preparing us to receive the inevitable final blow from the grim reaper’s scythe. Macabre I know but don’t worry I’ll pull you back up again!
This posture can affect some of us prematurely. You tall folk out there need to watch out for this one. Many tall people don’t want to stick out as they do. At a mighty 5 foot 9 this is not something I have ever struggled with!
Equally you down trodden office workers attempting to rage against the machine. Years of working in a dead end job can do this to you prematurely. I think if I hadn’t changed career 14 years ago that could well have been me by now too.
There’s more information on ageing and what it does to us at this page on the main part of our site on Avoiding Joint Pain. For the sake of this blog however we want to concentrate on what ageing does to our muscles to leave some of us with extreme poor posture.
Firstly our muscles start weakening from the age of 25! As stated in this research here. They also start tightening up as this piece states in relation to calf muscles. Joy of joys. Add into the mix old injuries, psychological issues and no wonder we end up needing a walking stick!
What Muscles Are Most Affected?
Let us use two categories of muscles which lead to this terrible posture. Firstly the muscles that shorten pulling us forward. Secondly the muscles that oppose this movement and pull us more upright. The ones that shorten work with gravity and so end up pulling us ever forwards and down. The one that oppose gravity get tired and struggle to counter balance the strong pull from the front.
Technically this will have an impact on pretty much all of the muscles of the body. To keep it simple and also for maximum bang for our buck in stretching terms we will concentrate on the big boys. The prime drivers. Those muscles responsible for big movement of our arms, legs and neck.
The muscles that pull us down and forward we are going to focus on here are:
Hip Flexors that lift the legs up in walking and running but equally pull out torso downwards – Psoas and Iliacus
Your Six Pack – Rectus Abdominus to give the latin – pulls us forwards also
The Internal Rotators of the shoulder which give us the rounded shoulder look – Latissimus Dorsi and Pectorals
Flexors of the neck – Sternocleidomastoid
Torso Rotators – Obliques – this is a little bit of a stretch but this picture here shows how they are continuous with the lats and therefore also contribute to that forwards pull
How Long Should I Stretch For?
Before we go into the stretches a little house keeping to keep us in order. Firstly if you get any pain on any of these stretches STOP! Painful stretching is counterproductive. Firstly because we will tense our bodies as a reaction to pain. Secondly because we have receptors within our muscles which tell the brain when they think a muscle is getting too long and is in danger of straining. This causes a protective shortening of the muscles which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
If you get some pain on stretching try stretching a bit less. A lot of the time you will be able to stretch less to give you no pain but still some stretch. You will then be able to stretch further into that stretch later without pain.
Duration of stretching advice varies wildly and there is quite literally no consensus at all. For a discussion on this and other stretching topic please check our previous Stretching Blog. In the blog we explain why our preferred approach which is for a minimum of 30 seconds hold then stretching a little further and then holding for an additional 30 seconds.
Drum roll please…
The 4 Gravity Defying Stretches To Keep You Young
If you’ve not done anything like this before you probably need to start with a nice easy option. Lay on your back on your bed after a long days work with your arms back out over your head. This will release all of that tension built up through the day and remove any sign of that dodgy posture you’re been using. You should not experience pain anywhere. Especially in the low back. You can be aware of the low back but not pain. Ideally you should feel a stretch through your stomach.
For a more intense exercise perform this over a Swiss ball as shown. If you don’t have a Swiss ball you may have a suitable size chair, table or single bed. Use your imagination!
These stretches help release out all of those muscles in the stomach which tighten during a day slumping at a desk. Or tighten after a run. It stretches out the compressive force which acts on the spine to relieve symptoms of back pain. Keeping you upright and without the need for a walking stick for a few more years.
Latissimus Dorsi / Hang Out
Personally my favourite stretch. Stretches out the muscles that shortens as our shoulder round forward over the course of a day or lifetime. It’s double great as due to the connection explained earlier it will release off the obliques which are also held tight when slouching or tired.
Simply grab the corner of a wall just above the level of your shoulder. Stick your backside out behind you and bend your knees as if you were sitting down. You may start to feel a stretch already. From here rotate your torso towards the side you are stretching to increase the stretch. This can feel this anywhere from your armpit to the crest of hip and possibly all of it. As always not to pain and if you get peculiar feelings down the arm then stretch less. If it persists perhaps this isn’t one for you in your current state – see Book Now button top right!
A milder version of the same stretch for those struggling is as shown below using a door frame.
Does what it says on the tin! Makes you look like a half moon as per the picture. Stand straight up and bend over to the side. This stretches that lovely connection we’ve been talking about between the lats and obliques. In so doing it will release off the rounded shoulder posture and also the naughty slumped pelvis posture. If you are feeling brave and you have a Swiss ball to hand you can move onto the second picture to give that extra bit of stretch.
Head Posture Against A Wall
Stand against a wall, simple! The key points here are to ensure that your heels are against the wall. Your buttocks are in contact with the wall. Shoulder blades in touch with wall and finally the back of your head. You may be surprised how far from the wall your head is before you move it forcibly back in what will be a better position.
The more observant amongst you may have noticed this is not technically a stretch. But this is great to re-set you posture and remind you what position you should be in. Best performed at the beginning of the day or the end after a long day sat staring at a computer screen. It reminds the muscles that keep the head upright that they should be working and helps avoid that head stooped forwards look.
If you’re feeling keen you can easily turn this into a strengthening exercise for these muscles. Simply push your head back into the wall. It feels like you’re giving yourself a double chin if you’re doing it right. Do 3 sets of 10 of contract and relax against the wall or 3 sets of contract and hold for 30 seconds. As always if you get pain this is not for you in your present shape.
Age Defying Conclusion
There you have it. All the information you could possibly need to stay young and beautiful! Simply taking 10 minutes out of your day to perform these stretches will have you feeling more upright, invigorated, less achy and more supple. If you’re not, you know where we are!