Health

Start stretching

Get your muscles loose for walking

Everyone knows that stretching is good for you, but when you’re revved-up after a great walk, the temptation to rush through your stretches, or skip them all together, can be powerful.

Walkers don’t need the flexibility of a ballerina, says Bradford, Ont., personal trainer Anita Horlings, but they should spend about five minutes stretching for every 30 minutes of walking. “It’s important to bring your muscles back to at least their original pre-exercise length to avoid stiffness and tightness,” she says. Research shows that exercisers who stretch regularly also reduce their chances of injury.

Just a few minutes of basic stretching every day will help you maintain a healthy range of motion for a lifetime of active living and walking. Follow these tips to be sure you’re getting the most from your stretching routine.

Stretch when you’re warm. Stretches are most effective and feel best when your muscles are warm and pliable. Factor in time at the end of your walk to focus solely on stretching and lengthening your muscles. Some walkers feel best if they also stop and stretch about five to 10 minutes into each walk.

Get comfortable. While you may experience a little discomfort in an area that is tight, you shouldn’t feel pain. Stretching feels good when done correctly. Don’t push yourself too far or attempt to go further each day.

Hold the position. For the best results, hold the position – without bouncing – for 60 seconds. If your muscles are especially tight, repeat each stretch twice.

Keep breathing. Hold the body position, but don’t hold your breath! Breathing slowly and deeply helps your muscles relax and lengthen.

Do it regularly. The key to improving your flexibility is choosing the right stretches, using excellent technique and consistently performing them after every walk. If you stretch regularly, your flexibility will improve gradually over time.

Here are three simple standing stretches you can do after each walk. If you have trouble balancing, hold onto a park bench, a tree or a wall.

1 Calf and hip stretch

Take a large step forward with your right foot, and bend your right knee. Straighten your left leg, and press your left heel toward the ground. Stand tall so your shoulders are straight over your hips. Feel the stretch in your left calf and the front of your left hip. Hold the position for 60 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.

2 Back thigh and back stretch

Place your right heel on a low step or curb, keeping your right leg straight and your toes pointing up. Slightly bend your left leg, and bend your torso forward from the hips. Keep your back straight. Hold the position for 60 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.

3 Front thigh and shin stretch

Balancing on your left leg, lift your right foot behind you and grasp it with your right hand. Gently pull your foot up behind you, until your knee is pointing down, toward the ground. Press your foot into your hand, and push your right hip forward. Hold the position for 60 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.