Stretching Introduction

Part I— Core Stretches

Your body’s center of gravity, your core (your pelvis and the muscles attached to it), is your body’s fulcrum. Any muscle that links to your pelvis is a part of your core, and every move you make begins in your core. A weak and unstable core can translate into chronic low back pain. Because your muscles are interconnected and eventually lead to your core, aches and pains can radiate beyond your low back.

The older you get, the more muscle mass and strength you loose. In the process, your core muscles loose some of the flexibility you need for coordinated and pain-free movement.

The natural aging process is further compounded by the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. It’s not a fast and tried rule, but as we put on the years, we also tend to put on extra pounds, exercise less, our posture goes to pot, we spend hours sitting (one of the worst possible positions for a stable low back is on our butts in a chair), and on and on.

One thing you can do to minimize or eliminate low back pain is to regain as much of your youthful flexibility and muscle tone as possible. To reach that fountain of youth, you have to rebalance your muscles. That rebalancing act requires a program of both stretching and strengthening.

For the next several weeks, you’ll focus on one half of that balancing act: stretching your core muscles for flexibility. Of the many stretching techniques available, the one I’ve found most beneficial is Active-Isolated Stretching (AIS), developed by Jim and Phil Wharton.

When you first stretch a muscle, it reacts by doing the opposite, contracting; this is the stretching reflex. AIS gets around this reflex in a neat way: it causes the muscle to relax by contracting the muscle opposite. You then stretch the isolated and relaxed muscle for 2 seconds, before the stretch reflex can kick in.

An added benefit of AIS is that you’re also gently strengthening the muscles that you contract. Later in Better Boomer Backs, you’ll strengthen those muscles even more.

Core Stretching Preliminaries

Many of the stretching and strengthening exercises start with you lying flat on your back. Twisting your back out of whack getting into and out of position isn’t part of the program. I’ve wrenched my back enough times going from up to down and down to up to know that proper technique can avoid a backache.

Here’s how to safely get on your back from a standing position:

•Stand tall.

•Step back with one leg and kneel, supporting your weight with your hands on your thighs.

•Slip one hand off your thighs when you’re close to the ground, and support yourself with that hand.

•Bring your other knee down so that you’re sitting on both knees.

  1. Roll over onto your back using your arms for support.


When you’ve finished your exercises, reverse the process to get back up on your feet without wrenching your back:

•Roll over onto your side using your arms.

•Push with your arms to an upright position on your knees.

  1. Lean forward slightly, at the same time bringing one knee up and out so that you’re resting on that foot, both hands still on your thighs.

  2. Push off your thighs to a standing position.

Breathing While Stretching

During the actual stretch, exhale either through your nose or between slightly parted lips. Inhale when you release the stretch. Your breathing will determine the cadence of your stretching.

To start off on the right breath, inhale immediately before you begin the exercise, then exhale into the first stretch. Inhale on the release, exhale on the stretch. Repeat this pattern till you have finished all the stretches in the exercise.

In the written instructions, you’ll find statements like “Exhale your left leg up” or “Inhale your knee down.” Do as instructed.

What You’ll Need

•A comfortable surface to stretch on. Your living room floor works. So would your garage floor with a mat or rug to lie on.

•Clothes that don’t restrict your movement. Running shorts and a t-shirt, for example.

•An 8-foot length of rope to help with several of the stretches. I use a ¼-inch-diameter braided nylon rope that I bought at the local hardware store.

•Drinking water to slack your thirst and keep you hydrated while you stretch.

•A minimum of 30 minutes of free time.


For rope-assisted stretches, use the rope only for a gentle pull at the end of the stretch. Use your muscles—not the rope—to position your body for that end-of-stretch assist. When you stretch, the muscle opposite the muscle being stretched contracts and does the work of putting your body into the correct position.

Hold stretches for no more than 2 seconds. Each repetition of stretches is like a dance. You move fluently and easily in (exhale) and out (inhale) of each stretch. How far you stretch is based solely on your comfort level. Never stretch to the point where you feel pain.