Trust us, we get it: Stretching is like icing on the workout cake. With so much to do, it’s the first thing to get booted. After all, it’s not like pulling on your quads or relaxing your hip flexors is going to help you fit back into those jeans any quicker. Or will it? Well, not so fast. According to David Reavy, director of React Physical Therapy in Chicago, tagging on a few key stretches to your walk could amp up the power of your stride, helping you go farther, faster.
“If certain muscles are tight, they create tension on other areas of your body and pull you out of proper alignment,” explains Reavy. “Stretching helps to keep your body in the right position so you become more efficient at walking—and potentially burn more calories—and reduce your risk of being sidelined by an injury.” Hmm… Seems like they might be worth the time after all, wouldn’t you say? (Walk off 22 pounds in just 8 weeks with Walk Off Weight!)
Keep your muscles, tendons, and ligaments limber and ready to take on the road ahead with these few simple stretches.
1. Ball Over Head
Why: To counteract office slump—aka, rounded shoulders.
“Oftentimes walkers lean forward so that their heads are out of line with their bodies, resulting in unnecessary pressure on the neck and shoulder muscles,” says Reavy. “This stretching exercise helps walkers to engage their lats, which help you hold your trunk more upright. When lats work well, your spine becomes more erect and your shoulder blades sit in a better position.”
Lie on a flat surface with your feet flat. With arms straight, take a 6-pound or less medicine ball in both hands and raise the ball above your head. Push the ball toward the ceiling and hold. Slowly lower the ball behind your head as far as you’re able to bring back. Repeat 3 times before walking.
2. Chin Tuck
Why: A tight neck can lead to big pains.
Doing this right before you walk can help the muscles in the neck and upper back relax, so your neck is better able to support the weight of your head and keep it in proper alignment over your spine. “If your head moves too far forward, it causes increased stress on already tight muscles,” says Reavy.
Lie on a flat surface with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Press the back of the head into the table. Chin should tuck slightly down. Keep back entirely flat against the table. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times before walking.
3. Calf Soleus Stretch
Why: Tight calves mess with your ankles and knees.
Fun fact: Runners tend to have tight glutes, while walkers tend to have tight calves. When you’re walking, both feet are constantly on the ground, which engages your calf muscles more so than running when one foot is off the ground at all times, explains Reavy. “If your calves are tight, it causes joint pain in the ankle, knee, or both.”
Stand on the edge of a box or curb. Extend one heel off the step and slightly bend that knee. Allow the heel to drop below the step. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other calf. Repeat 3 times before walking.
4. Lumbar Twist/Piriformis Stretch
Why: Stiff glutes can cause knee and hip pain.
“It’s very common for the gluteus medius and piriformis to become chronically tight,” says Andy McMarlin, MD, with Winning Health Sports Medicine in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “When these muscles do not function properly to stabilize the [outside] of the femur and keep it from excessive internal rotation, the knee joint mechanics can suffer.” And cause pain.
Sit with one leg straight out and the other leg crossed over that leg with knee bent and foot flat on ground. Rotate your torso toward the bent-knee side so the elbow rests on side with the straight leg. Using your elbow, push on outside of the crossed over knee for a full stretch. Hold for 10 seconds each side. Repeat 3 times, each side, before and after walking.
5. Standing Groin Stretch
Why: Because you have hip flexors—and they get ridiculously tight.
“About 80% of the force that is generated from walking comes from the hip flexors, so theses muscle groups really get a workout during a long walk!” says McMarlin. “If you just go for a walk and then go on about your day, the front of your hips and groin may remain abnormally restrained. This pulls the pelvis into an anterior tilt and can aggravate your lower back and cause hip impingement issues.” One move to stretch the hip flexors is the standing groin stretch.
Standing with one leg lunged forward and torso upright, bend trailing knee until it almost touches the ground. For a deeper stretch, lower your knee all the way to the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, each side. Repeat each side 3 times before and after walking.
6. Lateral Flexion Stretch
Why: You swing your arms, a lot.
“It’s common for the muscles on the side of your body to get tight if you’re a heavy walker,” says yoga expert Beth Shaw, CEO of Yogafit Inc. “This stretch helps open them up so you can move more freely and without discomfort.”
In a standing position, bring the left arm overhead with the right arm down resting the hand on the hip at 90-degree angle. Inhale, lifting out of the lower back. Exhale, and stretch the left arm overhead until you feel a deep stretch up the left side of the body. Keep the glutes tight and the lower body moving forward as the upper body continues to lift and sink. Take 5 deep breaths and then switch sides. Repeat 3 times on each side before and after walking.
Published: June 4, 2015. By Blake Miller
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