Stretch for Success with Your Walking Program

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By Laura Lundquist, PT
Zoomers Physiotherapy & Health Solutions, Halifax

On average, we take approximately 1,000 steps in every 10 minutes that we walk.  Following a regular stretching routine is an effective way to manage the normal muscle tightness created by all those steps! Keeping those muscles supple is key in reducing the risk of pain developing in our ankles, knees, hips and lower back.  

As a physiotherapist, I regularly teach clients which stretches can optimize their walking performance and safety.  Read on for the answers to the three questions that I answer most often about stretching.

When should I stretch?

In the last 20 years there has been some great research that shows that although a warm-up is important, doing static (holding positions for 20-30 seconds) stretching prior to activity isn’t generally effective in managing muscle tightness.  However, static stretching after exercise is recommended. Ideally this stretching should be done while your muscles are still “warm” from your walk, within 15-20 minutes of finishing your route.

Which stretches should I do?

Each of us may benefit from slightly different stretching routines due to our health history.  However, there are several stretches that are generally well-tolerated and effective to manage the normal muscle stiffness that can result from a walking routine.  Here are my three favourite stretches to maximize performance and comfort when walking:

Calf stretch

Calf

  • Stand facing the wall and step one leg backward.
  • Keep the back leg straight (heel down) and bend the front knee.
  • A stretch should be felt in the back of the lower leg, below the knee.

*Tip:  Keep both feet pointed forward to maximum stretch!

Quadricep stretch

Quadricep

  • Stand holding something for balance.
  • Place one foot up on the seat of a chair behind you while continuing to stand in upright posture.
  • A stretch should be felt in the front of the thigh near the knee.

*Tip: Avoid cramping in the back of the thigh by resting the leg fully on the chair.  

Hip flexor stretch

Hip Flexor

  • Stand holding something for balance.
  • Take a large step forward and keep the front knee bent.
  • Lift the back heel up while letting the back knee bend slightly.
  • A stretch should be felt in the front of the thigh near the hip.

*Tip:  Stand tall but avoid arching in the lower back.

How long should I hold each stretch?

Each stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds and repeated two to three times on each side.  They should not cause pain in the muscles or joints.  You may find that you can move “deeper” into the stretch as time progresses but as long as you are feeling a gentle pull in the target muscle, the stretch is effective; you should not feel like you are forcing it.

If these positions are painful or don’t work for you, visit your physiotherapist for an individualized assessment and stretching prescription based on your specific needs.  We have a lot more than three muscles in our legs, you might benefit from stretching additional muscles as well!

About the Author

Laura Lundquist is a physiotherapist whose passion for healthy active aging prompted her to open Zoomers Physiotherapy and Health Solutions in Halifax. More information about Zoomers’ health-care and Club Z fitness services can be found at www.zoomershealth.ca or by calling 902-453-1525. Located at 291 Horseshoe Lake Dr., Halifax.

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