I’ll be the first to admit that I used to skip stretching after my workouts—hence the past tense on that statement. It didn’t take me very long to realize that after a long walk or run, neglecting to stretch out the primary muscles (i.e., the calves, quads, hamstrings, and flexors) would leave me in a world of pain.
According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, neglecting to stretch after a workout will not only make walking more difficult, but also increase the risk of muscle, tendon, and ligament injury. So add these six simple stretches to the end of your walking workouts. They’re quick to do and will support your speed, endurance, and walking alignment and stride…
There is little doubt that after a long walk—especially if you take hills or stairs—one of the first groups of muscles you’ll feel tension in is the quadriceps. The quads cover a large area of muscles at the front of the thigh. Stretching out the quads after a walk or run will help can help release tension and tightness in this large area and encourage full mobility of the muscles going forward.
To perform a quadriceps stretch, stand tall with your knees together. Bend your left leg up behind and grabbing the foot or ankle with your left hand, pull the heel close to your buttocks. Be sure to keep your torso straight and feel free to keep balance using your right hand. Alternate to stretch right quad.
If you walk or run, you’re going to feel it in your hip flexors, the muscles located deep in your abdominal cavity, which assist in lifting the knees and bending at the waist. Tightness in this area typically occurs in the upper groin region, where the pelvis and thigh meet.
Stephanie E. Siegrist, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and representative of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, recommends stretching to minimize strain through and around the hips, even with walking where tight hip flexors can pull the pelvis and cause strain in the lower back. To stretch the groin, lunge your right leg forward and bend your left knee to almost meet the ground. Hold for 10- to 15-seconds and repeat on opposite side.
If you use your legs for any activity, you’re engaging the hamstrings. These stretchy cord-like muscles (the Biceps Femoris, the Semitendinosus, and the Semimembranosus muscles) run up the back of your thigh—extending from the pelvis to the lower leg—and engage whenever you extend your hip or bend a knee.
To stretch the hamstrings, sit comfortably on the floor with your legs extended. Bend your right leg at the knee and place the foot against your inside of the opposite thigh. Gently and slowly bend at the hips towards the floor while keeping your back as straight as possible. Alternate legs.
Most walkers tend to lean forward so that their heads misalign with their neck and shoulders. This forward slump becomes a bad habit if you work a desk job and can cause severe neck and shoulder strain. To counteract this forward slump, perform a stretch that engages the latissimus dorsi muscles, or the lats, which are the large muscles of your back that hold your spine, shoulder blades, and trunk in upright alignment.
The overhead reach stretches the entire length of the lats. Not only does it feel great—it releases a ton of tension. To perform this stretch, stand tall and straight, looking forward. Bend your right arm overhead and grasp the elbow or wrist with your left hand. Slowly and gently pull the elbow towards your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on opposite side.
When an overhead reach just isn’t enough to blast neck tension, you will need to counteract tightness in the neck and upper back with a move that counteracts stress and misalignment—especially if you sit at a desk and slump forward into your computer all day long.
According to Chicago-based physical therapist, David Reavy, a chin tuck alleviates stress in the muscles in your neck and upper back so they’re better able to support the weight of your head in proper alignment over the spine. To perform a chin tuck, lie flat with your legs bent with flat feet on the floor. Now pressing the back of your head into the floor, tuck your chin slightly down and feel a stretch through the back of the neck.
Walkers typically have tight calves because, unlike running, both feet constantly meet the ground. This muscle tension can quickly alter the mobility through the knees and ankles and result in joint pain, and potential knee injury.
That’s why calf stretches are imperative to prevent knee joint injury. To perform a proper calf stretch, stand with feet on the edge of a stair or curb. Slightly bend the right knee and extend that same heel off the step letting it dip below the step. Feel that stretch in the back of your right calf? You should. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on left.