Walking warm-up, cool-down and stretches

Walking workout preparation and recovery

Walking, unlike running, or a sport such as tennis or football, is something that we do naturally every day. But just because you walk frequently doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from preparing for your walking workout by warming up.

Bridging the gap between being still and moving not only helps your body avoid injury, it also enables you to get more out of your workout by priming the physiological and musculoskeletal systems.

The walking warm-up

Although the primary muscles used in walking are all below the belt, a general mobilization of all the body’s major joints is still worthwhile, as you don’t want to be walking with tense shoulders or a stiff back. Mobilise the neck, shoulders, back, waist, hips, knees and ankles with gentle bending, extending and circling movements. The idea is not to increase the range of motion but simply to work through it. Nearly all sports advocate walking as part of a warm-up — so once mobilised, simply begin walking at a slow pace. Add in some bouts of walking on your heels and then on your toes and gradually pick up speed to your desired pace for the session.

Cool-down and stretching after a walking workout

Once your walking workout is over, come to a gradual halt, rather than stopping suddenly. This is particularly important if you have been working hard, as blood will be pumping around the body very quickly and stopping suddenly can cause it to pool in the veins and make you feel dizzy or nauseous. A cool-down period also helps dispel the waste products that have accumulated in the muscles.

When you have spent a couple of minutes slowing down, you could repeat some of the mobilisations you did in the warm-up, but if you are short on time, move straight on to a thorough stretch.

Flex your mental muscle …

Bear the following points in mind when you stretch …

  • Are you doing it properly? Just a tiny error in body positioning can greatly reduce the effectiveness of a stretch, so follow instructions carefully, or ask a trainer to demonstrate what to do. You should stretch to the point at which you feel tension and a slight pulling sensation in the muscle but not pain. Hold this position until the ‘stress-relaxation’ response occurs and the force on the muscle decreases. Then increase the stretch if you can and continue to hold.
  • Are you holding it for long enough? You need to go for 15 to 30 seconds to improve flexibility and repeat each stretch at least twice, according to the recently revised American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.
  • Are you stretching the muscles you need to? For example, the shins and hips often get neglected while we all remember to stretch calves, hamstrings and quads.
  • Are you doing it regularly enough? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two to three times per week — daily, if you prefer.
  • Try to stretch after every workout when your muscles are nicely warm, to keep your joints and muscles healthy and mobile. 

The walker’s stretching routine …

Hamstring stretch

Stand facing a support between knee and hip height. Extend one leg and place it on the support, with the foot relaxed. Your supporting leg should be perpendicular to the floor. Now hinge forward from the hips (don’t round the back), keeping the pelvis level and the knee of the extended leg straight. Feel the stretch along the back of the supported thigh. You don’t need to pull your toes back towards you — the only reason this intensifies the stretch is because it stretches the sciatic nerve.

Calves and achilles stretch

Stand facing a support, feet at stride length apart with back leg straight and front leg bent. Press the back heel into the floor so that you experience a stretch in the middle of the calf muscle. Turn toes slightly inwards to focus on the outer side of the calf. Hold. Now bring the back leg in a little, bend the knee and flex the hips, so that the stretch moves down to the lower part of the calf and achilles tendon. Finally, with both legs still bent, place the front toes of the front leg up against a wall to stretch the muscles of the foot.

Quad stretch

Stand tall with feet parallel and then lift your right heel, taking your right hand behind you to grab the foot. Bring the pelvis in to a neutral position and gently press the foot into your hand, keeping knees close together. It doesn’t matter if your stretching thigh is in front of the supporting one, as long as you feel a stretch.

Hips/iliotibial band stretch

Stand tall, and cross one leg behind the other, sliding it away from you until you feel a stretch in the back leg hip. Bend the supporting leg and lean the torso the direction the back leg is stretching.

Hip flexor stretch

Assume a lunge position, allowing the back knee to go to the floor, and the toes to face down. Tighten the tummy muscles and extend forwards from the back hip, until your front knee is at 90 degrees and your back knee is behind the hips. You should feel a stretch along the front of the hip joint and thigh.

Shin stretch

Kneel on a mat with a rolled-up towel under your feet. Gently lower your weight onto your haunches and feel a stretch along the front of the shins and ankles. To increase the stretch, place both hands on the floor, and lift each leg alternately.

Inner thighs stretch

Sit on the floor with knees drawn into chest and feet flat on the floor. Drop knees open to the sides and use your elbows to gently press the legs open. Don’t round the back, sit up tall.

Glutes/abductors stretch

Sit against a wall with legs outstretched. Cross your right foot over your left thigh and put the foot flat on the floor. Now take your left arm around the right knee and gently pull it around towards the shoulder (rather than hugging directly to chest), sitting up tall.

Back stretch

Roll onto your back, bend your knees in towards your chest and link your arms around them. Pull the knees towards the shoulders, pressing the lower back into the floor. Then take arms to a crucifix position, and alternately drop the knees down to each side.

Apply this format to all your walking workouts and you will be in the best possible physical and psychological shape to complete successful and safe walking sessions.

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