Stretching for Walking and Hiking
Heading out for a walk or hike may not feel as demanding as, say, running intervals or taking a spinning class...
...but both workouts are certainly challenging in their own right. Your muscles will be called upon to help you on your way, so they deserve a post-exercise stretching period just like any other workout (performing some extensions beforehand isn’t a must but can certainly feel good).
When you warm up and cool down in this way, you minimize muscle soreness and may decrease your chances of injury. That primes you to be able to hit your favorite path, treadmill, or track day after day. Spending a little time extending your muscles also helps improve your balance.
Walking & Hiking Warmup
If you want to do a little pre-walk movement, start with two to three minutes of warmup walking—breaking a light sweat and moving at an easy pace to loosen muscles, joints, and tendons, gradually increasing your heart rate and blood flow.
Then stop and lightly stretch your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and ankles. These two stretches will help you cover your bases:
Toe Reach: Stand with your feet slightly apart. Bend at the waist and, with your knees slightly bent, reach down to touch your toes. Hold there for 30 seconds. Then slowly rise back up, rolling through each vertebrae of your spine until you reach a standing position, your neck and head the last to arrive.
Ankle Stretch: Sitting down (a workout bench, park bench, or even a tree stump will do), point and flex your feet for 10 to 15 seconds to loosen your ankles.
Walking & Hiking Cool Down
It’s important to take five to 10 minutes post-walk or hike to help your body recover, normalizing your heart rate and blood pressure. The cool-down period is a time for deep stretches that are held longer because your muscles are now warm and supple.
Try these three stretches after your next walk or hike:
Standing Knee Tuck: Stand with legs hip-width apart, squat slightly and then lift your right knee up to your chest, holding it there with both hands. Engage the muscles in your left leg and core for stability.
Try not to lean backward, and hold here for 30 to 60 seconds before lowering your foot back to the ground. Switch legs; complete twice on each side.
Stability Ball Stretches: If you walked on a treadmill at the gym, there’s a good chance a large exercise ball is close by. Sit on it with your feet flat on the floor and your hands on your hips. Move your pelvis and hips in a circular motion, keeping your buttocks on the ball and your upper body stable. Complete 10 circles before switching directions. Then try a figure 8 motion.
Thread the Needle: Lie flat on your back and cross your right ankle above your left knee. Then lift your left leg and grasp your left hamstring (the back of your thigh) with both hands and draw your left knee toward your chest. While you hold the stretch, circle your left ankle in both directions and point and flex your left foot. Hold here for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
In addition to providing any injury protection, stretching feels great. Make it a regular part of your exercise routine, a well-earned reward for your workout.