Prime your muscles for a safer, more efficient walk with this quick warmup.
Sunscreen, breathable clothing, and a great podcast are all things worth bringing along on your walk. Tight muscles are not.
Going into your walk with stiff muscles can impede your workout by reducing power output and speed, says Carolyn Appel, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer in New York City. That’s why fitness pros preach the importance of warming up your body.
“The main objective is to lengthen muscles that may have been stuck in shortened positions during stationary activities, like sitting or driving,” Appel says. “The greater your range of motion, the more unrestricted and energetic your walk will be.”
Make the five walking stretches below part of your warmup. They’ll help lubricate your joints, promote circulation, and prepare your body mentally and physically for the road ahead.
How to Use These Walking Stretches
While the goal of these stretches is to loosen up your body in preparation for a walk, it’s best to perform static stretches—which require you to reach and hold a position—when your muscles are already warm. Get your blood flowing by walking in place for five minutes, and then perform each of the following stretches in order.
As you stretch, breathe deeply, and go slowly. Listen to your body, and never force a movement that causes pain. It’s okay if you can’t bend very far now. It’s more important to use good form. And with regular stretching, your flexibility will improve.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each stretch. As always, safety is key. The stretches here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Walking Stretch #1: Standing Hamstring Stretch
Tight, weak hamstrings—the muscles on the backs of your thighs—are an extremely common result of time spent sitting, says Terecita “Ti” Blair, a SilverSneakers instructor based in Denver.
They’re also often the cause of chronic low back pain, she says. When your hamstrings aren’t strong or flexible enough, the low back ends up taking on a lot of pressure during normal daily activities—walking included. This stretch aims to loosen up both the hamstrings and the low back.
Try it: Using a tree trunk or wall for support, place your hands about hip height against the surface. Step back with both feet, and hinge forward at your hips, keeping your abdominals in.
Straighten your legs without locking out the knees, and reach your arms forward while pushing into the tree or wall for support to prevent collapsing in your chest. Think of elongating your back to keep your pelvis in the correct position—no tucking!
Hinge forward so your body forms an upside-down L shape or as far as comfortable. You’ll feel the stretch in the backs of your legs. Hold here for three to five deep breaths.
Walking Stretch #2: Chest Expansion and Upper-Back Mobilizer
You might not think you need to loosen up your upper body for a walk, but these muscles are vital to good posture, gait performance, and breathing capacity, Blair says.
Try it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale as you reach your arms behind you with thumbs down, and clasp your fingers behind your back. Reach your clasped hands a little farther back as you lift your chest, allowing your upper back to arch slightly. You’ll feel your chest opening.
On your exhale, release the clasp and take your arms forward, grabbing hold of one wrist for a deeper stretch. Gently round your upper back, allowing your chin to come to your chest and your pelvis to tuck slightly. That’s one rep. Do five to 10 reps total, moving with your breath.
Walking Stretch #3: Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch
If you spend much time sitting—which pretty much everyone does—the muscles in the fronts of your legs, like your quads and hip flexors, are probably tight. That’s problematic, since your hip flexors are key in stretching your leg behind you when taking long strides and in lifting your leg high to step over objects, Appel explains.
“Tightness here can also ‘pull’ the pelvis out of alignment and aggravate low back pain,” Blair says. This simple lunge helps open the area up.
Try it: You can perform this stretch next to a tree or wall for support if needed. Kneel on your left knee. Place your right foot flat on the floor in front of you, knee bent.
Shift your hips forward slightly, keeping your back straight and stretching your left hip toward the floor. Squeeze your butt, which will allow you to stretch your hip flexor even more. You should feel the stretch in the top of your back leg.
Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute, taking deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Make it easier: Instead of kneeling, try a standing yoga lunge.
Walking Stretch #4: Standing Bent-Over Calf Stretch
“The muscles in the backs of your shins are critical for pushing off during walking or hopping over a puddle,” Appel says. Calves can tighten up from sitting or from wearing shoes that have heels higher than the toes, which most sneakers do, she says.
Try it: Stand with your right foot in front of your left foot. Keep your front (right) knee straight and bend your back (left) knee as you fold forward at the hips. With your left hand, grab onto your front (right) foot underneath your toes. Think about sending your butt back to prevent rounding your spine.
From here, make sure you have your balance first, and then pull up gently on your toes, feeling the stretch in your front (right) calf. Hold for at least three to five breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Walking Stretch #5: Standing Pigeon Pose
You can’t ignore the muscles you sit on!
“The glutes are the most powerful muscles in your body,” Appel says. “After you’ve taken a step, they pull the leg behind you to prepare for the next step and enable much of the movement of the pelvis while you walk—along with a slew of other functions.”
For a safe, strong walk, you’ll want your glutes ready to go. “When they’re tight, they can’t perform at their peak,” Appel says.
Pigeon pose is often done seated, but the standing version is a great alternative if you’re outside or don’t have access to a chair or mat.
Try it: You can perform this stretch next to a tree or wall for support if needed. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Lift your left leg, and cross your left foot over your right leg.
Keeping your left foot flexed, sit back into a single-leg chair position. Lower only as much as you comfortably can—every little bit counts. You can hold your hands together in front of your chest or hold on to a sturdy surface for support.
Find a focal point to help you balance, and breathe here for three to five breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
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