Prime your muscles for a safer, more efficient walk with this quick warmup.
Sunscreen, a great podcast, and breathable clothing 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 New York-based trainer. 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 stretches below part of your pre-walk routine. They’ll help lubricate the joints, promote blood flow and circulation, and prepare the body mentally and physically for the road ahead.
How to Use These 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—in which you 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. 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.
Stretch #1: Standing Hamstring Stretch
Tight and weak hamstrings are an extremely common result of time spent sitting, says Terecita “Ti” Blair, a SilverSneakers instructor based in Denver, Colorado.
They’re also often the cause of chronic low-back pain, she says, because when your hamstrings aren’t strong enough or lack flexibility, 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—the muscles on the backs of your thighs—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 wall or tree for support to prevent collapsing in your chest. Think of elongating your back to keep your pelvis in the correct position—no tucking!
Your body will form an upside down L shape, and you’ll feel the stretch in the backs of your legs. Hold here for three to five deep breaths.
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 posture, gait performance, and breathing capacity, Blair says.
Try it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Inhale as you reach your arms behind you with thumbs down, and clasp 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 added sensation. 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.
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 back 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: 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, taking deep breaths, for 30 seconds to one minute. Switch sides and repeat. You can perform this stretch next to a tree or wall for support if needed.
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 feet staggered. Bend your back knee and keep your front knee straight as you fold forward at the hips and grab onto your front foot underneath your toes. Think about sending your butt back to prevent rounding your spine.
From here, pull up gently on your toes, feeling the stretch in your calf. Hold for at least three to five breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
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,” she explains. “When they’re tight, they can’t perform at their peak.”
This stretch is often performed 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: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and parallel, hands on the hips. Lift your left leg, and cross your left foot over your right knee. 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. Find a focal point to help you balance, and breathe here for three to five breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
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