It has been fascinating to watch some of my patients in their 50’s and 60’s maintain their competitive edge and display impressive athletic abilities.
There were some who didn’t lose the power of their serve in tennis. Others continued bowling competitively.
I’ve seen some return to competitive dancing; joining local and even regional competitions. While others even improved the accuracy of their golf swings.
All of them raved about the benefits of assisted stretching!
What is assisted stretching?
Assisted stretching is a form of passive stretching where another person, preferably a trained stretch therapist or professional, applies a controlled continuous movement up to the end range to maximize your joint range of motion and your soft tissue flexibility.
While stretching by yourself can be effective, stretching hard-to-reach muscles with a partner can enhance flexibility in muscle groups that are otherwise difficult or impossible to stretch.
Assisted stretching programs usually consist of 30- to 45-minute sessions and are tailored according to your own specific goals.
Why is assisted stretching important?
When it comes to working out, we often focus on cardio or strength training while forgetting about stretching.
Stretching is an important part of any workout routine, yet many older adults skip it altogether.
There are many benefits of assisted stretching, including improved range of motion, reduced risk of injury, and improved circulation.
Benefits of assisted stretching also include improved posture and decreased pain, stiffness, and muscle soreness for people over 50.
What are the 5 benefits of assisted stretching?
If you’re not sold on the benefits of stretching, assisted or otherwise, maybe this will convince you. Here are five benefits of assisted stretching that may just make it your new favorite workout:
1. Improved flexibility
This is probably the most obvious benefit of assisted stretching, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
When you stretch on your own, the opposite side or part of your body is reflexively contracting or tightening as you perform the stretch. On the other hand, if another person performs the stretching routine for you, you can just relax your whole body and let go of the muscle tension.
The relaxation of your whole body, not just your tight muscles, allows for a deeper stretch and increased flexibility.
2. Improved range of motion
Stretching can help improve your range of motion, increasing your mobility and making it easier to perform everyday activities and exercises.
Assessing your flexibility and range of motion is an important component of your overall mobility and function.
3. Reduced risk of injury
Muscle strains and other injuries are less likely to occur when you don’t force to stretch hard-to-reach muscles by yourself.
Having another person do the stretch for you allows for better control and position of the stretch.
4. Improved performance in physical activities
As I mentioned in the introduction, I was impressed by how my 50-year-old and older patients appear to not only maintain but even improve their physical abilities!
Many of them attribute their improved flexibility and range of motion from specific stretching techniques involving a trained practitioner.
5. Improved mood and focus
This one is a pleasant surprise for me. Many of my patients report that they looked forward to their assisted stretching routines as it helped decrease their stress levels.
Because some older adults experience a sense of isolation as a result of their decreased level of activity, the social aspect of an assisted stretch session seemed to help alleviate this feeling.
What are the 5 risks of assisted stretching?
When the partner stretching is untrained, they may apply too much pressure or overextend the muscle.
Communicate your pain to the person assisting you so that they can adjust their technique.
2. Improper technique
“No pain, no gain” does not apply to assisted stretching. Pain is your body’s way of communicating that something is wrong.
When stretching, respect pain.
Performed properly, some discomfort, not pain is expected to occur with assisted stretching.
Some people suffer from hypermobility, a condition in which their joints can move beyond their normal range of motion.
In hypermobile joints, assisted stretching can aggravate the overall instability and increase the risk of injury.
4. May affect your performance if done immediately before competition
A 2019 study looked into the effects of static stretching, including assisted stretching, on high-performance athletes participating in strength and power competitions.
The study found out that static stretching, including assisted stretching, should be applied with caution in athletes immediately preceding strength and power competitions as it negatively affected their performance.
To put it simply, you should incorporate assisted stretching into your health and wellness program, but refrain from doing so immediately before a high-performance event.
5. Insufficient warm-up
You are more likely to sustain soft tissue injuries when performing assisted stretching to cold muscles.
Assisted stretching should be preceded by a warm-up of at least 5-10 minutes of brisk walking, jogging, or cycling.
Your muscles will benefit from increased warm blood circulation, reducing the risk of injury.
How often should you get assisted stretching?
Assisted stretching, at least once every two weeks, supplemented by an active stretching routine on your own, can help you achieve the best results.
The benefits of assisted stretching can be lost if you skimp your own regular stretching.
For example, those who take advantage of assisted stretching in order to increase their range of motion may see that range of motion decrease again if they stop their own regular stretching routines.
Can you gain flexibility after 50?
The short answer is Yes!
This research paper found that “flexibility training interventions in older adults are often effective at increasing joint range of motion in various joints… and various functional outcomes can be improved.”
Not only can you gain flexibility after 50, according to the 2011 ACSM position statement, “flexibility training may enhance postural stability and balance when combined with resistance training.”
What to do next?
The benefits of assisted stretching are well documented. It can help improve flexibility, range of motion, and reduce pain and stiffness. It is also a relatively safe and low-risk form of exercise.
Check out this article to see my top 10 tips to prevent exercise injuries.
If you are considering adding assisted stretching to your fitness routine, be sure to consult with a qualified professional to ensure you are using proper form and technique.
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT is an award-winning author and speaker. On drlexgonzales.com, he provides practical information to help people over 50 get strong, healthy, and pain-free.