Walking is one of the best forms of exercise: It burns calories, works your major muscle groups (including your abs, back, glutes, and thighs), strengthens your bones, and gives you a chance to either think clearly or just relax your mind and unwind. Walking also gets your muscles nice and warm, priming them for a post-stroll stretch session that delivers even more positive benefits.
One classic study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that when subjects held a hamstring stretch for 30 seconds (and performed the stretch five times per week, after exercise, for six weeks), they increased their range of motion by more than 11 degrees. That’s good news: Increasing your flexibility allows you to do more with less risk for strain or injury.
Stretch after you walk — not before. Research shows that stretching after being sedentary can slow or even temporarily weaken muscles, hindering your workout and raising your chances of getting hurt.
The following 3 post-walk stretches target muscles in the lower portion of your core which, when tight, can cause lower back and/or knee pain. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing flexibility exercises two to three times a week, and to hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. For best results, perform each stretch two to three times per session.
Beginner: Sit up straight in a sturdy chair, lift up your right ankle and place it on top of your left knee. Holding onto the chair seat for balance, lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in the back of your right buttocks and the outside of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Advanced: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your right ankle on your left knee. Pull both of your knees toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hips. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Iliopsoas and Calf Stretch
Beginner: Stand facing a wall. Step forward with your right leg, and place both hands against the wall — don’t lean against the wall, instead let all of your weight sink down into your feet. Bend your front (right) leg, and press your hips forward. Take a second to make sure both of your hips are level with the floor and parallel with the wall in front of you. You should feel a stretch along the front of your left hip, deep into your abdominal muscles. For a deeper stretch bend your right leg more and let your arms move higher up on the wall. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Advanced: To work on your balance and stretch your abdominals, raise your arms overhead during the stretch instead of placing them against a wall.
Beginner: Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet placed flat on the floor. Extend and straighten your right leg with your foot flexed. Holding the left side of the chair seat for balance, reach your right hand down and forward toward your right foot, keeping your arm and leg straight. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Advanced: Lower yourself onto the floor on your hands and knees. Step your feet back and straighten your knees until your body forms an upside-down V (also knows as the ‘downward dog’ yoga pose). Hold for 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and lower back.