By Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Three-time Olympian and coach Pat Connolly gave me these tips for building flexibility to help you prevent falls, pulled muscles and back problems. Head-to-toe strength and flexibility help you achieve and maintain good balance.
A muscle should be strong through its whole range of motion. Learning to relax that muscle helps it stretch and increase its range. When ever you stretch one muscle its opposing muscle contracts. For example, when you make a fist and curl your hand up to your shoulder, your bicep ( in front of your upper arm) is contracting and your tricep (in the back of your upper arm) is stretching. So when you stretch a muscle, be sure to loosen or shake it gently after each stretch. Start with these stretches.
Head and Neck
1. Sit tall in the chair, hands rest relaxed on your lap. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale letting your shoulders drop and completely relax. Repeat 3 times. 2. While holding your head up straight, place the palm of either hand on your forehead, then as you curl your chin down to your chest give gentle resistance with your hand against your forehead so the front muscles in your neck have to work a little harder to get your chin down. Repeat 10 times. 3.Place your hand on the back of your head while your head is hanging forward, chin close to your chest. Then resist your head with gentle pressure from your hand as you roll your head back as far as it will comfortably go. Repeat 10 times. 4. Shrug your shoulders, then relax. Hold your arms out on each side at shoulder level and then make slow backward circles squeezing your shoulder blades together each time your shoulders go back. Repeat 10 times.
These exercises can be done anytime you feel tense or have a headache. You’ll be surprised at the relief after just a few minutes.
1. Let your arms dangle by your side while standing with your feet about a foot apart. Shake your hands for 5-10 seconds, then swing your arms up over your head and down keeping them relaxed, not stiff. Repeat 10 times on each arm. 2. Lift your right arm with your elbow pointing up and your hand hanging behind your head. With your left hand grab your elbow and gently push back, stretching the back of your upper arm. Hold for about 10 seconds, then reverse arms.
1. Sitting in the chair, spread your legs apart, fold your arms in front, bend over as far as you can between your legs and gently bounce to the left, middle and right. Repeat 5 times. 2. Place your left foot on your right knee. With your right hand gently press your left knee toward the floor until you feel the stretch in your hip and buttocks. Repeat 5 times, then reverse legs. 3. Lie on your back on the floor. Bend both knees and sit up or curl up as far as you can, and hold for a few seconds. Repeat as many times as you can up to 20. After you do this, lie flat with your knees slightly bent and gently shake your stomach muscles with your hands.
Buttocks and Legs
1. Stand up and shake each leg gently, slightly in front, and let each foot dangle for about 5-10 seconds. This helps to get the blood flowing. Test the flexibility of the backs of your legs: Bend over while keeping your knees straight (locked) and see how close to the floor you can reach with your hands. Make a mental note or use a ruler or marker. Then, after shaking each leg to get it relaxed, squat down, as if sitting on a low chair. Place both hands on your legs just above your knees, palm down with your fingers on the inside of your thighs. Now push your hands down on your legs as hard as you can and count to ten, slowly. Then stand up, shake your legs, and then re-test to see if you can get closer to the floor. You should see an improvement.
2. Leg swings: Hold on to the back of the chair with both hands and gently swing your left leg back and forth across the front of you 10 times, then repeat with your right leg. Keep your swinging leg relaxed and your support leg straight. Then hold on with just your right hand, swing your left leg front and back 10 times. Repeat with opposite leg.
3. Calf stretches: Hold the back of the chair with both hands. Put your right foot forward and slightly bend your right knee while your left leg is straight back, then try to stretch your heel down to the floor. Hold the stretch for a count of 15 and then, most importantly, gently tap your left toes back on the floor so that you loosen the calf muscle you just stretched. Repeat with the other leg.
4. Butt firmers: With both hands on the chair back, point your right leg back keeping your knee straight and raise your right foot about 6 inches off the floor by squeezing your right butt. Repeat 10 times, then do your left side.
1. Using chair for balance, stand on one foot and come up on your toes and down 20 times. Repeat with other foot. Shake out after each set. 2. Sit on the chair and make big circles with your left foot, first pointing and then flexing. Repeat with the other foot. 3. Hold your legs out straight in front of you, point your toes as hard as you can and count to 5, then pull them back as far as you can and count to 5. Repeat 10 times.
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Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at http://www.DrMirkin.comFree weekly newsletter on fitness, health, and nutrition.
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March 25, 2006