The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days per week — and brisk walking is one of the best exercises for the job. It’s easy on joints, you can do it anywhere and if you push your speed or add an incline, you can burn major calories.
Plus, walking is an excellent recovery tool after a tough workout because it helps boost circulation and flush toxins that can accumulate in muscles. That said, as with any exercise, flexibility training helps keep your muscles pliable. “Stretching post-walk can reduce associated stiffness and improve performance,” says Nashville-based orthopedic therapist, Chris Wolfe, PT, director of the Green Hills STAR Physical Therapy Clinic.
Here are five stretches Wolfe recommends to help keep your stride on track. Perform each one for 5 sets of 20 seconds:
What it does: Loosens hip flexors and quadriceps
Why do it: “This stretch will improve the range of motion in your hips and knees and can help your posture by allowing you to stand straighter,” Wolfe says.
The move: Stand with your hands against a wall or holding the back of a sturdy chair or table. Grasp one foot behind you and gently pull toward your glute. Perform 5 sets of 20 seconds and then switch legs.
STANDING RISE AND SHINE
What it does: Stretches lower back
Why do it: “This move boosts flexibility of the spine and trunk, which can help improve balance.”
The move: Stand with both hands placed low on your back, fingers facing down as if they’re about to slip into your back pockets. Gently lean back and press your hips forward.
STANDING RUNNER’S (AND WALKER’S) STRETCH
What it does: Loosens tight calf muscles
Why do it: “This move can actually aid your ability to straighten your knee.”
The move: Stand facing a wall and place both hands on the wall. Step one foot slightly behind you, and place the foot flat on the floor. Bend your front knee and lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Aim to press your back heel toward the floor. Perform 5 sets of 20 seconds, then switch legs.
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SEATED ONE-LEGGED REACH
What it does: Stretches hamstrings
Why do it: “This stretch increases your ability to lean forward and reach your feet (which can get tough with tight hamstrings) and improves low-back flexibility.”
The move: Sit with one leg extended straight in front of you, and the other bent, with your foot flat on the ground. Bend forward from your hips, and reach over your extended leg toward your foot. Hold without bouncing. Perform 5 sets of 20 seconds, then switch legs.
SEATED FIGURE FOUR
What it does: Loosens tight hips and glutes
Why do it: “This stretch helps increase the range of motion in your hips and can improve the functional use of your legs. For example, it can help you step up or over objects more easily,” Wolfe says.
The move: Sit on a bench or chair with both feet flat on the floor. Pick up one foot and place it across your other thigh. Lean forward slightly if this is easy. If this is too difficult, sit on the floor with both legs extended. Place one ankle over the opposite shin. Repeat on the other side. Perform 5 sets of 20 seconds, then switch legs.