Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute On Aging

Chapter 4: Stretching Exercises

  • About Floor Exercises


      Alternative Hamstring Stretch



      Triceps Stretch (animated)

      Wrist Stretch


      Double Hip Rotation (animated)

      Single Hip Rotation

      Shoulder Rotation

      Neck Rotation

      Endurance Exercises

      Strength Exercises

      Balance Exercises

      Stretching Exercises

      Table of Contents

    • How to Improve Your Flexibility
      Stretching exercises give you more freedom of movement to do the things you need to do and the things you like to do. Stretching exercises alone can improve your flexibility, but they 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.

    • 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 your surgeon 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. Find a buddy who will be able to help you.

      Knowing the right way to get into a lying position on the floor and to get back up also may be helpful. 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.

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