By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
Research shows that walking is one of the best forms of exercise – both for cardiovascular benefits and for strengthening muscles. But there is one thing walking doesn’t do, and that is stretch the muscles. It’s important to stretch before you walk to prevent injury, and after you walk, to increase flexibility. Hold the stretches 10 seconds before walking and about 2 – 3 times longer after walking.
These are the important muscles to stretch:
These muscles run along the back of the upper leg.
Starting position: while seated, extend one leg forward
Rest the heel of the extended leg on the floor. Pull up on the toes and lean forward from the hip, keeping the back straight. Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds.
We have two calf muscles to stretch. They both insert under the heel. One attaches below the knee and the other attaches above the knee, so we need two different positions to stretch them.
1) GASTROCNEMIUS (first calf muscle)
Starting position: right foot forward, left foot back in a wide stance
Bend right knee so that the knee is directly over the right ankle. Left leg is straight. Toes of both feet are pointed forward. Feet are wide enough apart so you feel a mild stretch in the back of the lower left leg. Hold 10-20 seconds. Change legs and repeat on the other leg.
2) SOLEUS (second calf muscle)
Starting position: feet together
Step back on right foot with right foot placed just behind the left foot.
Sit down, as though sitting on a chair, just until you feel tightness above the right heel. Change legs and repeat)
HIP FLEXOR MUSCLE
This muscle attaches the thigh bone to the pelvis and lumbar spine. If you’re experiencing back pain after walking, chances are the hip flexors are tight and need to be stretched.
Starting position: right foot forward, left foot back in a wide stance. Lift the back heel. Bend both knees. Tuck tailbone under. Give a little lift up on ribcage.
You should feel the stretch in front of left hip. Stretching should feel good not painful.
These four muscles run along the front of the upper leg and can be stretched by using three different methods. Always use a wall or chair for balance. If using the back of a chair for balance, place your hand on the center of the chair for best balance.
• Method #1: USING THE PANT LEG
Bend both knees. Reach down and grab back of pant leg of right leg. Slowly ease up to a standing position. Once you have your balance, align the body so the knee, hip and shoulder are in line.
The knee should be pointing straight down to the floor (not to the side). This is important. You should feel the stretch along the front of the upper thigh. Hold 10 – 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
If cramping should occur, try holding for shorter periods of time and work up to 10 – 30 seconds. Relax the muscles as much as possible as you stretch.
• Method #2: USING THE ANKLE
Bend both knees. Reach down and grab above the ankle. Once you have your balance, align the body so the knee, hip and shoulder are in line. The knee should be pointing straight down to the floor. Hold 10 – 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
• Method #3: USING A TOWEL
Wrap the towel around the top of the right leg. Bend both knees and allow towel to drop down to the right ankle. Slowly ease up to a standing position. Once you have your balance, pull up on the towel enough to get the knee in alignment and pointing down to the floor. You’ll probably feel this in your right arm…the arm that is holding the towel. It’s a good
strengthening exercise for the arm. You can use a bath towel to begin with. Once the stretch becomes easier, try a hand towel, your pant leg or ankle ( repeat the stretch on the other leg ).
Walking is one of the best exercises you can do for your body and stretching is the best thing you can do for those walking muscles!