Our Favorite Stretching Exercises for Seniors
Target Muscles: Rotator cuff muscles
Shoulder stretches are valuable for relieving tightness and tension in your shoulders, neck, and upper back. This specific stretch, the cross-body shoulder stretch, is known for relieving pain in the posterior shoulder, improving posture and mobility, preventing deterioration, and reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
- Stand or sit up straight.
- Grab your right elbow with your left hand, and carefully pull your right arm across your chest until you feel a stretch. Keep your elbows below shoulder height at all times.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat with your left arm.
Seated Knee-to-Chest Stretch
Target Muscles: hips, lower back, hamstrings, glutes
The seated knee-to-chest stretch focuses on two large muscle groups at the back of your legs, your hamstrings and glutes, both of which need flexibility to avoid injuries. This stretch also helps to release back tension and increase blood flow to your upper extremities.
- Sit up straight at the front of your chair with your shoulders back.
- With your left foot firmly on the ground, grab the back of your right knee and slowly pull it toward your chest until you feel a stretch.
- Remain in this position for 30 seconds. Perform three total repetitions.
- Complete the same stretch with your left knee, leaving your right foot on the ground.
Target Muscles: soleus and gastrocnemius muscles, Achilles tendon
While the soleus stretch is vital for all seniors, it is beneficial for those who are often on their feet. If your calves seem constantly tight or sore, it’s likely the soleus muscles. Since the soleus muscle is located deep in the calf, this powerful muscle can be challenging to stretch and care for. Fortunately, this simple stretch can help you make significant strides toward loosening the soleus and relieving the discomfort in your calf.
- From a three-foot distance, stand facing a wall.
- Take a step toward the wall with your right foot and place both palms flat on the wall.
- Bend your right knee while keeping your left knee straight, and lean forward. Keep both feet flat on the floor.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Then return to a normal standing position. Repeat twice, putting the same leg forward.
- Switch legs and complete three repetitions.
Overhead Side Stretch
Target Muscles: Lower back, core, neck muscles
Helpful for relieving neck pain as well as tightness in your back and core, the overhead side stretch is easy to use just about anywhere.
- Stand up straight with your feet slightly farther apart than your typical stance.
- Raise your right hand over your head with your elbow and shoulders completely extended and your fingertips pointed upwards. Leave your left hand at your side with your palm on your thigh.
- With your right hand still up, lean to your left.
- Continue leaning and lower your left hand until you feel a stretch on your right torso.
- Let your neck drop to the side, sinking into the stretch
- Hold for 10 seconds, then relax and return to a standing position.
- Switch arms and repeat the process for your left side.
- Complete two or three repetitions for each side.
Modification: Try doing the overhead side stretch seated if you have weakness in your core or problems with balance.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Stretching the quadriceps, a large muscle group located at the front of your thigh, is critical because when these muscles remain too tight, they frequently cause knee and back pain. Quad stretches are great for improving the range of motion in your hips and knees. This particular stretch requires a high level of balance control.
Target Muscles: Quadriceps
- Stand tall, placing your weight on your left leg.
- Raise your right foot behind you and grab it with your right hand.
- Pull your right foot toward your pelvis until you feel the stretch in your quads.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat with your left leg.
Modification: If you struggle with balance, try performing this stretch while placing your idle hand on a wall or chair to keep you steady.
Target Muscles: Calves, hamstrings, hips
Hamstring stretches effectively increase low-back and leg flexibility and are a go-to stretch for sciatica sufferers. Stretching the hamstrings also improves your ability to bend over and pick things up, a common area of frustration for seniors.
- Grab a dry towel and lie on your back wherever you are comfortable.
- Wrap the towel around the back of your right thigh and use your hands to hold both sides of the towel, supporting your thigh. Keep your left leg on the flat surface that you’re lying on.
- Use the towel to pull your leg toward your head.
- Gradually straighten your knee until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. While you do that, focus on lining up the bottom of your foot with the ceiling.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and complete the exercise with the towel around your left leg.
- Repeat 4 or 5 times for each leg
Modification: For added support, do this exercise on your bed or while seated.
However, please note that seniors with lower-back pain will experience the most relief with hamstring stretches done while on their back, as this is the least stressful position for your body.
Target Muscles: Triceps
The triceps stretch works the large muscle on the back of your upper arms used for upper-body strength and part of the movement in your shoulders and arms. Stretching this muscle also helps to stabilize your shoulder, increase circulation, and improve flexibility.
- Stand or sit tall with your feet apart.
- Lift your arms above your head. Then bend your right arm behind your head and place your hand flat on your back. Your right elbow should be pointed upwards.
- Place your left hand above your right elbow, and carefully push your right arm down and toward your back.
- Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the opposite arm.
Modification: If you can’t reach your back with your hand (step 2), place your hand on the back of your head instead and continue with the exercise.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Note: This stretch is more advanced than those listed above and is often better for active individuals who already stretch regularly.
Target Muscles: Pectineus, iliacus, psoas, rectus femoris, sartorius
Strong hip muscles are vital for mobility. Unfortunately, tight hip muscles are something frequently experienced by seniors. While this stretch is a bit on the advanced side, it’s actually specifically helpful in relieving tightness and pain in individuals who spend much of their day seated.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands on your hips.
- Step forward roughly 1.5 feet with your right foot.
- Bend your right knee slowly, and lift the heel of your left foot slightly off the floor.
- Lean forward and tighten your left glute
- Hold for between 30 and 90 seconds.
- Repeat with your left leg forward
Modification: Use a wall or chair for balance assistance.