Many people mistakenly believe that stretching is only needed before strenuous physical activity, but a stretching routine is also beneficial when used as a warm-up before or cool down after walking exercise as well. Even simple stretches help prevent injury, improve range of motion, reduce muscle soreness, and get the blood flowing. Together, all of these conditions will help you take advantage of the full range of health benefits walking workouts provide.
The most common stretching routine before walking exercise typically involves lots of leg stretches that loosen the hamstrings, boost range of motion in the hip flexors, extend the quadriceps, and open up the glutes. Even with easygoing cardio like a walking workout, staying limber is a must to prevent injury and prevent muscle soreness. There are a few simple stretches that work on the low back to prevent lower back pain and improve posture, stance, and range of motion on the entire body.
There are many great health benefits of walking and stretching beforehand is the best way to take advantage of them. Especially when you’re just beginning a regular walking routine, stretches for walking will help improve range of motion and prevent injury. Read on for some of the best simple stretches to prepare for your next walking workout.
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Here’s what we’re about to cover:
- Health Benefits of Walking
- Stretched for Walking: Safety Tips
- 7 Best Stretches for Walking
Health Benefits of Walking
It’s a well-reported fact that taking just 10,000 steps per day can lead to some tremendous health benefits. People who want to improve lung function, lose a little weight, or control their blood pressure can use basic walking or walking in place as a non-stressful way to exercise without making a huge commitment to equipment or a gym membership. Best of all, it’s usually possible to sneak some extra walking into the majority of daily schedules.
A regular walking routine can help reduce cholesterol and lower stress. Some people even report improved cognitive function. In our increasingly digitized society, taking a stroll after dinner or in the afternoon can also be a great way to socialize with friends and neighbors.
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Stretches for Walking: Safety Tips
Although stretching routines have many advantages and health benefits, stretching incorrectly can still do more harm than good. While stretching before walking can help prevent injury, stretching incorrectly may well cause injury or, if it’s too severe, cause damage to cold muscles. Here are a few safety tips to make sure you can get the most out of a stretching routine and avail yourself of all the health benefits of walking exercise.
A Pre-Warm-Up is Critical
When we talk about cold muscles, we mean muscles that are not prepared for activity. If you spend most of the day seated at a desk, for example, then your leg muscles are unlikely to be ready for a long walk.
Before you start your stretching routine, make sure to take a quick walk so your muscles can begin to wake up. Going straight into a warm-up may cause injury to cold muscles.
Once you have begun to warm up cold muscles, stretching too fast can still cause pain or injuries. These simple stretches are meant to take joints through their full range of motion and going too quickly might cause you to do an incomplete stretch.
This is doubly important if you’re just beginning a walking routine. Getting used to these simple stretches will take a little time. Getting the right form is the only way to get all the health benefits of stretches for walking.
Listen to Your Body
When you move through these simple stretches, you should feel your muscles extending. That’s what stretches for walking are designed to do, after all. If you experience any pain during a stretch, stop stretching immediately. Contact your doctor or physical therapist if the pain is severe or continues for an extended period.
Keep It Fluid
As you move your joints through their range of motion with these simple stretches, make sure you are making fluid movements. Twitching or starting and stopping can stretch muscles inefficiently and is very likely to lead to stretching too fast.
To effectively execute these stretches for walking, imagine yourself in a pool of water. Your movements don’t need to be incredibly slow. It’s more important that you move at a consistent and even pace.
Relax Your Joints
Stretching or standing still, if you lock your joints it can lead to reduced blood flow. Many grooms have passed out largely due to this condition as they stand at the altar with their knees locked firmly. When you stand naturally, your knees and other joints are typically slightly bent. Keep this form as you move through these stretches for walking.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
As you concentrate on the stretch, it’s natural to stop breathing. This limits the amount of oxygen flow to your muscles, which can ruin the warm-up. Remember to continue breathing as evenly as possible when you do your stretches before walking.
Balance the Stretches
Keeping your balance is important to prevent injuries when you do stretches before walking, but you should also take care to stretch each side of your body evenly.
Balancing stretches on muscle groups on both sides of the body will help you avoid having a “good side” so to speak. Switch sides after each rep or complete all the reps on one side before you switch sides, just make sure both your right and left muscles groups are getting the stretching they need.
The 7 Best Stretches for Walking
Use these simple stretches to warm-up and cool down your hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, groin, knees, hip flexors, and upper body. They won’t take too much time and they’re certainly important for warming up cold muscles.
1. Calf Stretch
Soccer players and runners almost universally keep the calf stretch in their stretching routine because it’s a simple stretch and it does a great job at loosening tight calves. You can do it with any wall or bench. The calf muscle bears the brunt of the effort when walking and pain in the calf can radiate up to the glutes or quadriceps.
Here are the steps to follow to complete a calf stretch:
- With your right foot in front of your left (or vice versa) and your front knee slightly bent, lean toward a wall or place your right and left hands on a small railing or bench.
- This should cause your left leg to straighten out. Keep the heel of your rear foot flat on the ground and your front knee bent.
- You should feel the calf stretch in the rear leg. Hold this pose for 20 – 30 seconds or, if you aren’t able, for as long as you can.
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2. Hamstring Stretch
There are many great hamstring exercises, but this is the best for a warm-up or cool down for walking exercise. It’s another favorite element in the stretching routine of professional runners because it works out almost every muscle in the leg. If you pair it with a groin stretch, you’ll be well prepared for a walking workout.
If you want to do the hamstring stretch, here’s how:
- Sit on the floor with both your left and right legs out straight in front of you.
- Reach forward with both arms and bend at the waist as far as you can.
- Hold your pose at the furthest point of the hamstring stretch. You should feel it in the hamstrings of both legs. Release after 20 – 30 seconds.
Alternate Hamstring Stretch:
If you aren’t able to sit down on the floor, try using two kitchen chairs. Place them far enough apart that you can sit on one and put one leg across to the other chair. There shouldn’t be much room in between. Use one leg to maintain balance and execute the hamstring stretch as described above. Make sure to switch sides to make sure both hamstrings get a warm-up.
Using a lunge as part of your stretching routine is a great way to warm-up the muscle groups around the right or left knee. There are many lunge alternatives for people with injuries or chronic knee conditions like osteoarthritis. Other variations like the walking lunge work well as part of a full-blown workout, but this basic lunge is one of the best simple stretches for walking.
Here’s how to do a basic lunge:
- In the starting position, you should be standing upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Step forward with one foot until the knee of that forward leg is bent at a 90° angle. The back knee should almost touch the ground.
- Hold the pose for 15 – 30 seconds and then lift through the heel of your forward leg to return to the starting position. Switch sides.
If you aren’t able to get all the way down in a lunge, that’s alright. Go as far forward as you can without experiencing pain. As you continue using the lunge in your stretching routine, you should gain better flexibility and range of motion.
4. Leg Swings
Leg swings are great because they use the momentum of your bodyweight. For people who have trouble getting down on the ground to do a hamstring stretch or a lunge, leg swings are a great option. Leg swings don’t require any equipment, although some people prefer to stand next to a railing or a bench for balance.
Leg swings are done like this:
- Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the whole leg swing. Stand next to a support structure like a railing or bench if needed.
- Swing the leg furthest from the support like a pendulum. Your foot should never touch the ground. Make an effort to swing your leg through its full range of motion, but stop if you feel any pain.
- Switch sides and swing the other leg. Turn around so the opposite leg is furthest from the support.
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5. Quadriceps Stretch
One of the best exercises for anyone with poor balance who stretches before walking, the quadriceps stretch helps improve the range of motion of the left and right knees and, of course, the quads. It makes an effective cool-down stretch as well.
To do a quadriceps stretch, follow these steps:
- If needed, hold onto a chair, bench, railing, or countertop for balance.
- With either leg, bend your knee backward. Grab the ankle of that foot with one hand. For a deeper stretch, try and get your foot to touch your rear.
- Use your hand to bend your knee back as far as possible without pain. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Switch legs. Repeat 5 times with each leg.
6. Achilles Tendon Standing Stretch
If you tend to suffer from shin splints, practicing walking in place and adding this exercise to your stretching routine can help reduce pain and prevent the splints from happening in the future. You don’t need much to accomplish this simple stretch, although you will need some sore of slightly elevated platform such as a curb or stepladder.
Here’s how to do the Achilles tendon standing stretch:
- The balls of your feet should be on the edge of the platform. Make sure you can maintain balance in this position before entering into the stretch.
- Move one heel backward and let it hang off the edge. Push that heel down until you can feel a stretch in the back of your ankle and through the calf. Hold this position for about 30 seconds.
- Switch legs. Do this simple stretch 2 or 3 times on each leg.
Alternate Achilles Tendon Stretch:
If the balance required for this Achilles tendon standing stretch is undoable for you, you can also use a resistance band to do a seated version. You’ll probably need a couple of chairs or a bed if you can’t get down on the floor. All you need to do is loop the band around one foot and pull on it until you can feel your Achilles tendon stretching.
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7. Tibialis Anterior Muscle Stretch
Another great way to prevent shin splints, this exercise works out the front of your tibia muscle. It’s easy to do and it’s a great way to cool down after your walking exercise is complete.
Here’s how to do a Tibialis Anterior Muscle Stretch:
- Sit on the ground so that your shins are on the floor and the rest of your body is sitting on top of them.
- Your right and left hand should be on the ground in front of you. Raise yourself on your hands until you feel a stretch. For a deeper stretch, lean forward.
- Hold this pose for 15 – 30 seconds. Repeat up to 7 times, are as many as you can do.
Of the many health benefits of walking, some of the most surprising are its ability to ease joint pain, reduce cravings for sugary foods, and boost immune function. It can also help prevent weight gain and it’s also a great way to break up the monotony of the office or a 9-hour work-from-home schedule. To ensure that you can capitalize on these benefits of walking, stretching as a warm-up and cool down is essential.
Simple stretches aren’t the only way to get your body ready for walking exercise. Yoga works just as well as stretching before walking and can be done well in advance or as part of a regular exercise routine. Failing to warm up cold muscles with a stretching routine or yoga workout is likely to lead to torn muscles and other injuries. Stretching is the best way to prevent injury if your body is caught off guard by sudden, explosive movement.
More than just a method to prevent injury, stretches for walking are also used by physical therapists to ease pain from existing injuries. Granted, this will depend on the severity of the injury, but many of these simple stretches can also be used to ease muscle soreness and possibly reduce inflammation from a bodily injury that’s already there. It’s always best to check with a doctor or physical therapist before using them for such purposes.
Warming up for walking is the best way to reap all the health benefits of walking. People who do stretches before walking are more likely to have a better range of motion, stable blood pressure, and may even experience a happier mood.
Stretches before walking help prevent injury and warm up cold muscles, but it’s important to remember to do both a pre-warm-up and a cool down as well. Muscles that aren’t prepped for movement are more prone to tears.
Stretches before walking also help reduce muscle soreness. Physical therapists use them for injuries and chronic conditions. It’s best to use a stretching routine before any kind of physical activity to make sure you don’t experience muscle soreness or injure yourself.
There are many simple stretches that serve as a great warm-up for walking exercise. You don’t have to fit all the exercises we mentioned into a stretching routine, but you should do a few of them at least. You’ll find walking much more pleasant and the health benefits more apparent if you begin and end your walking exercise with the right stretching routine.
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