You may know about the benefits of stretching, but do you know the right time to stretch? It’s NOT before your walk, it’s after. You never want to stretch the body when it’s cold. I don’t care if it’s 90 degrees outside, if you haven’t moved your body, your muscles are cold. If you are about to exercise, you haven’t yet warmed up your muscles so they are not prepared for movement. When you are in your 20s, you can get away with this because the body has more resilience and heals faster from injury. After 40 or 50, the body loses resiliency and you need to pay more attention to the time before and after your workout.
Walking is great exercise. It requires no equipment aside from supportive shoes and you can do it anywhere! City, country, by the water, in the mountains, through the snow, there is almost no limit to where you can walk. But, as we age, how you walk becomes more important, as does how you treat your body before and after. Warming up the body well before you exercise, even going for a walk, will make a difference with how your body feels during and after your walk. Stretching afterward makes a great cool down, and keeps your body from getting stiff. If you have driven somewhere for your walk, be sure to stretch BEFORE you get back into the car. It will make a big difference with how your body feels once you get out of the car again.
My favorite pre-exercise prep is using a foam roller. If you don’t have access to a foam roller, then gentle actions that move the body through a similar range of motion as your exercise will work too. Click here to watch a short foam rolling sequence you can do before your walk.
If you don’t have a foam roller (or don’t want to foam roll), here are 3 pre-walk exercises to do to prepare the body for your walk. I have also included 4 post-walk stretches for a cool down once you are done.
Ankle Circles: We don’t often think about our feet and ankles as needing to warm up, but if you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you might have some stiffness that needs working out before you walk.
You can do this sitting or standing. Life one leg, knee bent with your foot below your knee. Rotate the foot in a circle in one direction 5 times, then rotate to the other direction for 5 times. This warms up the ankle and many of the muscles of the foot and lower leg.
Utkatasana to Crescent Lunge: Start with your feet either together or hip distance apart and bend your knees, keeping your spine straight. Your hands can be at your hips, over your head, or in Anjali Mudra (palms together in front of your heart). Shift your weight to your right foot and step your left foot back into a lunge, then step it forward again. Switch legs to step your right foot back then forward again. Repeat 5 times on each side.
This warms up the legs and feet and gets the glutes working. We need to use our glutes as we walk to prevent strain in the hamstrings or hip flexors.
Slow motion walking: Intentionally slow walking will get us ready for our actual walk by moving us through the motion that we’ll need. Moving slowly gives you time to pay attention to your body mechanics.
- Keep the shoulders over the hips
- Roll through the center of the foot, rather than being to the outside or inside of the foot
- Push off with the back leg, rather than reach with the front leg (use your glutes!)
- Control the shift of weight from the back leg to the front leg
Notice if any of these directions feels “odd” in your body. If so, chances are you are not walking with good body mechanics, and these little cues might help.
Post Walk Stretching
While there are many ways to stretch after you walk, here are 3 of my favorite post walk stretches. These are all stretches you can do immediately after your walk, either at home or, if you were hiking, before you get back into your car.
Standing Forward Bend: Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Bend your knees slightly then hinge at the hips to fold forward over your legs. You can keep your knees bent, which will allow the spine to lengthen, giving a nice stretch to the lower back. If you want more of a hamstring stretch (which I also recommend), you can lift your hips higher, moving the hips away from the heels. Make sure you are lifting the hips and not the lower back, as that will bypass the hamstring stretch. Breathe deeply for about 5 breaths, relaxing into the stretch.
Standing #4 Stretch: Feel free to hold onto something to support your balance. Stand on your left foot and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Bend your left knee deeply and hinge forward with a flat back until you feel the stretch in your right hip. Try not to round your spine, you’ll feel more stretch with a straight spine. Stay 5 breaths, then repeat to the other side.
Quad Stretch: Feel free to hold onto something to support your balance. Stand on your right foot and bring your left foot toward your left buttock. Grab the foot or ankle with your left hand and gently bring the foot toward the buttock. Keep your thighs parallel so that the knees are side by side. Feel your tailbone lengthening toward your knees. Don’t force the stretch. Breathe deeply for 5 breaths, then repeat to the other side.
Calf Stretch: This can be done at a wall or using a tree or your car’s tire. Any vertical surface will do. Place your right heel close to the vertical surface, 2-4″ away, depending on your ankles’ range of motion. Place the ball of your foot on the vertical surface. That might be plenty to feel the calf stretch. If not, lean toward the vertical surface, being sure not to leave your hips behind. Stay and breathe deeply for 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Join me every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am ET for Head to Toe Stretch! If you can’t make it online live, you can catch the classes on demand anytime you like! Click here for my online live class schedule and here for my on demand library.
Join me in person on Saturday, May 13th at 9am ET in Hopkinton State Park in Hopkinton, MA for Yoga and Walking! We’ll do a yoga warm up, take a 3 mile walk in the woods, then do a yoga cool down stretch together. Click here to sign up!