I started learning to pole vault for the first time in my life right around my 60th birthday. It’s a long story, but what I wanted to talk about today is … in pole vault, it is common for someone to video a person’s jumps. That way, the vaulter can see what went right and what went wrong on a particular jump.
Well, the first time I saw myself on video “running” down the runway for a vault, I was somewhat unpleasantly surprised. I like to say — only half-jokingly — that I thought the video might have been in slow motion or something.
It felt like I was running fairly fast, but in reality, well, the tape told a different story.
A friend who has been a championship pole vaulter all his life told me later that one reason we slow down so much in our old age is decreased flexibility. Things just stiffen up over time and the ol’ body just doesn’t move as fast as it once did.
We can never have the body of a teenager again, unfortunately, but there are things we can do to help, of course, and one of those things is regular stretching.
Here are a few ideas:
- Standing quad stretch: this is for your quadriceps, the large thigh muscle in front, or on top of, your leg. Stand with feet hip-width apart, close to a wall or a chair to use for balance, if needed. Bend your right leg behind you, reach back with your right hand and grab your foot. You may have to bend down a little at first to reach that foot. Stand up straight (using the chair or wall for support, if needed) and hold that position for 20-30 seconds. Pull the foot up toward your rear end as much as possible to feel tension in your quad muscle. Carefully release the foot, lower it back to the ground, and repeat with the left side.
- Hamstring stretch: this is for the muscle in the back of your thigh. Stand again with feet hip-width apart and step forward a foot or two with the right leg. Slowly bend forward toward that foot, keeping your back straight, until you feel tension in the hamstring muscle. If you can, lift the toes of the extended foot off the ground as you stretch. Again, have a chair or wall nearby for support, if needed. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Release and repeat with the left side.
- Toe touch: feet together, legs straight, and bend slowly at the waist as far as you comfortably can, arms and fingertips extended as far as possible toward your toes. Hold for 20-30 seconds. A friend of mine told me once, “If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees!” If you can only reach down as far as your knees, that’s OK. Don’t try and force yourself in the beginning. Gradually increase your bend over time.
So there are a few good leg stretches.
When you stretch, do it gently. Don’t try and force it. Don’t rock back and forth, trying to increase the movement. Go as far as you can, feeling a little tension, and hold it there. Increase the tension gently over time.
Work on those every day, or at least several times a week, and you will be surprised how quickly your flexibility improves.
You can do it!