No one wants to extend their workout longer than they have to, but experts say skipping a post-walk stretch session is a bad idea. “Absolutely, definitely, positively stretch after your walks,” says walking coach Michele Stanten, an ACE-certified fitness instructor and the author of Walk Off Weight.
Although it’s debatable whether stretching keeps soreness at bay or prevents injuries, says Stanten, it does still serve an important purpose. “Your muscles are warmer at the end of a walk so it’s easier to increase your range of motion and flexibility,” says Stanten. “And if you want to keep walking as you get older, you need to maintain your flexibility and range of motion. That’s really the reason you want to make sure you’re doing it.”
Plus, it just feels good. And who doesn’t like to end a workout on a high note? So take a look at the post-walk stretching routine below and then give it a go after your next step session. If the weather is good, you can do it outside. Otherwise head indoors, power up the blender for a recovery smoothie and sip while you stretch.
Stretching Routine for Walkers
Do each exercise below at least once, stretching each leg for at least 30 seconds. “Holding a stretch for 30 seconds has the most benefit,” says Stanten, “but if you can get up to a minute for each leg, even better.”
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Targets: Quadriceps, hip flexors
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Using your left hand, reach back and grab your left foot or left ankle and pull it towards your butt. Tuck your tailbone under and make sure your knee is pointing straight down toward the floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds; switch legs and repeat.
If you’re having trouble balancing, stand next to a wall, chair, tree or any other sturdy, stationary object and use your opposite hand to balance. “I really encourage people, even if they have good balance, to use a wall,” says Stanten. “You’ll get a better stretch if you’re not worried about falling.”
Straight-Leg Calf Stretch
Targets: Calves, hip flexors
Standing tall, extend your right leg straight back, placing your heel flat on the ground. Without bending your back knee, gently push your body forward from your pelvis. Your front knee should be directly over your ankle. Hold for at least 30 seconds; switch legs and repeat.
“This one you can also do with your hands against a wall,” says Stanten. “Think about shifting your hips toward the wall.”
Standing Figure Four Hip Stretch
Targets: Hips, glutes, lower back
Stand up with your feet together and squat down as if you’re about to sit in a chair. Lift your left leg and cross that ankle over your right thigh. Sit into the stretch—your right leg should be bent—and gently push your bent knee down. Hold for at least 30 seconds; switch legs and repeat.
“If you have trouble doing this stretch, you can hold onto a post or railing and sit back. Or do the stretch sitting on a chair or bench,” says Stanten.
Posterior Shoulder Stretch
Targets: Shoulders, upper back
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and roll your shoulders down and back. Bring your left arm across your body, and use your right arm to gently push your left arm towards your right shoulder. Hold for at least 30 seconds; switch arms and repeat.
Resistance Band Hamstring Stretch
Sit on the ground or on an exercise mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Loop a resistance band (or a jump rope or towel) around the arch of your right foot and, grasping the ends of the band in both hands, lie back. Bend your left leg, keeping your foot flat on the ground, and extend your right leg up until it’s perpendicular with the ground or you feel a comfortable stretch. Keep your right leg as straight as possible without locking your knee and your hips and lower back against the ground. Hold for at least 30 seconds; switch legs and repeat.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Senior health and fitness editor Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for more than 10 years. She’s written for Glamour, More, Prevention, and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in the Bay Area where she doesn’t miss winter at all.