Whether on land or in the water, effective stretching is key for the efficacy of a balanced fitness program. Range of motion and stretching exercises will release muscular tension and stress with a variety of light-hearted and mindful movements either active or stationary.
Research has clearly indicated that stretching will improve the range of motion (ROM) of your joints and will improve your performance of physical activities as well as decrease the risk of injury. Often we don’t value the importance of stretching and lack of stretching will put the joints at risk for pain, strains and muscular damage. Without a regular stretching routine, the muscles become shortened and tight. When you are unable to reach or move to achieve the task you would like to do – you lose your ability to move pain free.
Muscle is a highly elastic tissue that serves in locomotion and all movement of the body and is controlled by the nervous system. A conditioned muscle has the ability to stretch more than twice, or contract to half, its resting length. A strong, flexible muscle is stronger than a strong, tight muscle. It must be realized that muscles can only be powerful with mobility through full range of motion.
Therefore, flexibility is the optimal range of motion around the joints and their corresponding muscle groups without sacrificing stability or inducing pain and discomfort. The key to improving and maintaining flexibility is frequency and consistency of use. In other words, “If you don’t use it – you will lose it!”
Types of Stretching: Static (Passive) or Dynamic (Active) Techniques
Static or Passive stretching involves slowly stretching a muscle to the point of the personal end range of the participant and then holding that position for a period of time or ideally 10-30 seconds (although older adults may have greater benefits when static stretches are 30-60 seconds). This is largely attributed to the fact that some people take longer to relax and get into the point of being able to really lengthen and benefit with the stretch. Additionally, static should be done when the muscles are warm and pliable so doing a proper and thorough warm up is key to safe and effective stretching in any program. Most often at the end of a program is the best time to do static stretching or try to work on improving stretching.
Active or Dynamic Stretching is going from a starting point to an ending point of each joint with gentle movement. There are normal functional ranges that are necessary to perform activities of daily living. Each joint (depending on the kind) has unique movement patterns and independent flexibility. Realize when you perform a strengthening exercise the opposing muscle group is actively stretched. Moving in a controlled rather than ballistic manner is important for safety. No bouncing and no speed should be utilized with seniors.
Full range of motion is so important for overall mobility and helping seniors to move and stay functional. Note that every stretch should feel good and that there is not any force nor discomfort with any stretch. Every movement must be controlled in a pain free way so that the muscles feel lengthened and relaxed yet rejuvenated.
Realize that depending on health history, individual joint action, and genetics, everyone is unique with their stretching potential. What is advanced for one person (such as a former dancer or gymnast ) may be totally unrealistic for another individual who had a very sedentary type of lifestyle.
Flexibility exercises should be incorporated into every general fitness program. These exercises should provide enough stimuli to develop and maintain range of motion. WaterART recommends that simple active stretching can be done daily to maintain mobility and improve daily activity.
Stretching at the beginning of a program as part of the warm-up is to prepare the muscles to utilize oxygen for a beneficial workout -so this should be active or dynamic – not stationary. The joints need to be lubricated and the activity should be more focused on starting in a smaller range of motion and moving towards a larger or full range of motion – as able – in control. Realize that not all people nor all joints have the same mobility -so cue everyone to always move in their pain-free range.
Every joint action is unique and every person has different abilities based on health history, of their body structure. A common mistake is to offer people the same stretches for the same body parts or assume everyone is at the same ability. Like cardiovascular or muscular strengthen exercises, flexibility exercises need to be modified (made easier) or progressed (made more intense) to maintain and improve their range of motion.
The instructor should know the joint action or the biomechanics of the joint action as well as a normal and functional range of motion. The knee joint flexes and extends but doesn’t rotate safely (rotation causes torque on the knee). The shoulder joint is very mobile and unstable area. Holding arms too high or performing too much internal shoulder rotation or pectoral (chest strethening) may cause the shouders to rotate or trains for bad shoulder posture. On land, there should be caution not to do too much overhead movement or hold arms at shoulder height too long or simply do the same movement too much of the time. In water, traditional breast stroke movement like swimming will impinge the shoulder when standing vertical in the water. Taking the time to perform more movements down and back often are much kinder on the shoulder area than up and forward.
The shoulders need more reverse shoulder rolls to set the posture upright. Being sure not to hold arms too high or inwardly rotate or slump the upper body. Often rows may be a better movement for those with shoulder pain that constant large repetitive movements. Often a simple movement such as serving a platter (palm up and pulling back) is much better than pushing forward or doing too much chest presses.
Throughout any stretch exercise, the instructor should check in with their group and simply ask the students where they “feel” the muscle is being lengthened or stretched. Is the muscle releasing tension.
Inserting active stretching between conditioning segments of the class is the best way to improve overall flexibility. Often this helps to actively recover the muscles to dissipate the blood lactate or byproduct of the anaerobic work naturally yielded with water training. Additionally, strengthening the weak muscle naturally stretches the tight muscle partner in the water with active patterns if the exercise is performed with proper speed (not too fast), technique and range of motion.
Stretching during the warm-down (we don’t say cool down) helps maintain good range of motion as well as provide relaxation and prevent muscle soreness at the end of a class. This is the best time to improve a persons flexibility or range of motion. Stretching at the end of a class will promote gradual reduction in cardiovascular function while maintaining thermal regulation for comfort. If water temperature is too cold, omit any static positions since counter-productive or do them on deck or in shower.
Emphasize stretching tighter musculature such as the erector spinae (low back), hamstrings, calves, adductors, ilipsoas, gluteaus maximus, pectorals, anterior deltoid, biceps and sternocleidomastoid (neck). Taking long strides (forwards, sideways and backwards) g and looking in or away from the direction of travel will facilitate this – however, there are many interesting ways to facilitate stretching.
Always making sure the participants stay warm throughout the entire program time is key to their success and satisfaction of a water program. In other words, they should not leave a program early because they are cold. An instructor may need to insert light activity between stretches at the end program or suggest that a person moves more ( or wears more thermal gear) . Staying warm to the end of the class will help to complete a balanced program. If a person gets chilled they may feel more pain and discomfort and if they fail to stretch properly they may not completely balance their muscles for injury prevention and better posture.
Music should be chosen to help relax the class and using more relaxing music for a specific stretching segment is key to add a sense of joy yet calm.
Things to consider when stretching in water
- Flexibility gains are safest and most effective when the muscle temperature is 104 degrees Farenheit. Water temperature needs to be greater than 83 degrees F or 28 C so that muscles may relax and stretch yet maintain thermal regulation.
- When getting into cooler water, be sure to encourage participants to move as soon as they enter the water to allow the large muscle groups to maintain and generate heat -we call that thermal regulation. A variety of easy basic movements with walking patterns moving forward, backwards or sideways are some of the best exercises to actively warm up and prepare the muscles for the exercise or workout to come as well as mentally rehearse the coordination of the movements. Cool water may require more warm up and interspearse “themal moves”.
- Wearing some thermal gear such as long sleeve 100% polyester fabrics and leggings and a thermal vest will make a huge difference in staying both warm and happy throughout the program.
- Combining active ROM with other activities throughout the program (and not just at the end) will help to improve overall flexibility gains.
- Dynamic or active stretching is performed within the inner 90 percent of the joint range of motion; avoid the extreme end of joint range of motion because the water’s buoyancy may easily take a joint beyond normal range to prevent injury.
Things to consider when stretching on land
- muscles need to be warm to stretch safetly therefore always do at least a 5-10 minute warm up. Stretching cold muscles cause micro tears.
- Lying down on the floor (or bed) is the best way to relax and also may be the safest position as they cannot fall and muscles dont need to work to lie rested. The challenge is though getting older adults on and off the floor. Therefore the instructor may demonstrate (on the floor) while the students watch how to stretch when you get into your bed at night .
- Most people dont breathe diaphragmatically well. This is deep belly breathing. Breathe in through your nose and fill your tummy up with air then exhale and expell the full belly breath. Breathing helps with relaxing the muscles so cue how to breathe deep and well.
Whether on land or in the water, take the time to balance the body and add stretching and mindful movements such as Yoga, Tai chi and relaxation tips to a program. You will find that people not only stay less stressed they may even learn how to take the time to find their inner connection.