Stretching exercises can be an important part of your daily walking routine! If you experience soreness after walking, or just want to get more flexible, then leg stretches, calf stretches and back stretches can help you get more limber and walk more.
Many people who begin walking for exercise assume there is no need to stretch. After all, they’ve been walking their entire life. If you’re new to walking for fitness, you may be surprised to discover muscle soreness after an intense walking workout or after a 10,000 step day. This is a common feeling, however. In fact, it’s not unusual for your leg muscles to be sore enough to prevent you from walking the next day – especially if you’re just starting or if you’ve increased your intensity. Adding a few leg stretches to your routine can help prevent soreness, increase flexibility and prevent injuries.
Whether you’re new to fitness walking or have been at it for years, there are benefits to adding stretches to your walking routine. Stretching prevents injury by improving the range of motion of your joints and muscles. Stretching also lengthens underused muscles to improve posture and prevent back strain. Muscle tension can pull on other areas of the body, creating an imbalance and the potential for new injuries as you favor sore muscles. Stretching increases blood flow and oxygen to your muscles to speed healing.
Before learning stretching exercises, it’s important to understand how to stretch safely. Stretching without using the proper techniques can do more harm than good and even damage your muscles and ligaments. These stretching safety tips can help you participate in stretches that will have your muscles thanking you later.
- Warm-up first. Start walking at a regular pace to warm up your muscles before stretching. Stretching cold muscles can result in injuries!
- Breathe normally. Holding your breath while stretching limits the amount of oxygen reaching your muscles.
- Stretch smoothly. Never bounce or jerk while stretching. Always stretch in smooth motions to avoid impact injury.
- Keep joints slightly bent. Locking joints in place while stretching can cause injuries.
- Pay attention to your body’s signals. A slight pulling feeling is normal while stretching. Sharp or stabbing pain is a sign to stop.
- Focus on equality. When gaining flexibility, focus on keeping both sides of the body the same instead of stretching as far as possible on one side. Equal flexibility creates a balance that makes injury less likely.
- Ease into it. Make sure that any stretch you do is slow and controlled. Any motion that you can’t easily stop if you feel tightness can lead to injuries!
You can actually add stretches to many parts of your walking routine, but try to ensure you warm up first. When doing cardio exercise like walking, you should complete a warmup, your cardio walk, and a cooldown period. You can stretch after your warmup, as a break during your walk, or even during or after your cooldown. Don’t wait too long after cooling down, however, as once you’re rested your muscles will be tight again. At that point, you risk injury just like as if you stretched cold.
We can’t stress enough that you should warm up before stretching to avoid injuries. Prior to a workout, you can also try a “dynamic warmup,” which involves slowly doing the motions you’d normally do in a walk to get your muscles moving.
Simple Stretches for Every Walker
You don’t have to get into a whole yoga routine to feel the benefits of stretching. A few stretches after your warm up and a repeat of stretching exercises after your walk is complete will likely be sufficient. The most common exercises to add to your walking routine are calf stretches and other leg stretches. Holding onto a chair for balance can help you avoid losing balance. If you have difficulty maintaining balance, or keeping proper form, it’s best to modify the exercises rather than force yourself to try and risk injuries. Improper form is a one-way ticket to an injury. If you are stretching outdoors, a fence, bench, wall, or post can be used to help retain balance. These simple stretches are can help to improve flexibility and avoid post-walk soreness.
1. Calf Stretch
Calf soreness is one of the most common problems for walkers. This stretch can help you avoid it. While standing straight, put your left leg behind you keeping your heel on the floor. Bend your right knee and lean forward, stretching the calf in the left leg. Repeat with right leg. Using a wall, pole or other structure to push into can help to deepen the stretch while maintaining balance.
2. Thigh Stretch
The large muscles along the front of the thighs are especially affected when walking on an incline. Adding this stretch to your routine is a good idea at every level. Stand straight with your legs together. Bend your left leg behind you and grab your foot or ankle to stretch your heel toward your buttocks. Be sure to keep your core engaged to keep your torso straight. Your right hand may be needed to retain balance. Repeat with right leg. If you have trouble keeping balance, you can hold onto a chair or use a wall or pole to keep yourself balanced.
3. Leg Swings
Swinging your legs naturally mimics the movements of walking. Stand straight, holding a chair for balance if necessary. Move your right leg to the front to tap the floor with your toe. Repeat the motion to the side and to the back before switching legs.
4. Groin Stretch
Your hip flexors are especially affected by walking. When these muscles become stiff, back pain can follow. This stretch can help avoid injury. Standing straight, stretch your right leg forward into a lunge and bend your left knee toward the ground. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds before switching legs.
5. Overhead Stretch
Legs aren’t the only muscles affected by walking. The muscles in your back affect your posture. This stretch will help relieve back tension. Standing straight, face forward and bend your right arm overhead. Grab your elbow with your left hand and pull gently toward your left shoulder. Repeat with the other arm.
You can also do this stretch with your hands together (as pictured), or by holding a belt or resistance band between your hands if you have trouble connecting your hands.
6. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Any activity that required you to lift your feet affects your hamstrings. Stand straight and prop your heel on a surface slightly lower than hip level. (A bench is a great choice.) Flex your foot. For a deeper stretch, keep foot flexed and bend forward at the hips. Repeat with the other leg.
Walking is a wonderful form of exercise almost anyone can do. The more you walk (especially if you’re walking an hour or more) the more you’ll appreciate the added flexibility and strength that stretching can bring you. Adding stretches to your routine will help keep you safe and improve the muscle-building benefits and general health benefits of daily walks.
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