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Fitness Education: Principles of Flexibility for Aging Adults

Principles of Flexibility for Aging Adults

Flexibility is impacted by tendons and ligaments within the joint capsule, proper warm-up, and muscle viscosity. Flexibility is assessed by range of motion within joints. This decreases with aging and as physical activity decreases. Range of motion around a joint improves immediately following stretching exercises. Regular stretching can maintain and improve flexibility and range of motion. Mobility training can improve postural stability, balance, and pain management. The common complaint of muscular low back pain can be traced to poor lower back and hip flexibility combined with poor abdominal strength. Stretching can be performed daily and the best results occur following a warm-up. Regular stretching becomes more important with aging. Range of motion improvement occurs after 3-4 weeks of stretching 2-3 times per week.

Static stretching involves slowly stretching a muscle group and holding for an extended period up to 30 seconds or more for older adults. This can result in short term decreases in muscle strength, power and sports performance and therefore should be performed following cardiovascular endurance and strength training exercises. Active static stretching involves holding the stretched position using the muscle strength such as common yoga poses. Passive static stretching involves holding a limb or other body part with assistance of a partner or device such as a band or yoga strap.

Dynamic stretching involves a slow-paced gradual transition from one body position to another with a progressive increase in reach and range of motion as the movement is repeated several times. These can include arm circles, high knees, or inch worms. Dynamic stretching is an effective method of warming up prior to cardiovascular endurance or strength training.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching involves increasing the length of muscles through a sustained contraction followed by static stretching. This involves a pattern of contraction and relaxation. These are held for 30- 120 seconds. This typically requires trained personal to guide and assist.


FITT Principle for Flexibility
Frequency 2-3 times per week
Intensity Stretch to the point of tension (NOT PAIN!)
Time – Hold a static stretch for 30+ seconds

– Dynamic stretching 30+ seconds per muscle group

– PNF stretching 3-6 second contraction followed by 30 second assisted stretch

Repeat all stretches 2-4 times, following warm-up

Type – Dynamic Stretching as Warmup

– Static Stretching as cool down

– PNF stretching under guidance of trained personal


Written By: Heidi Dotson