Walking 101: cool-down stretches

Proper stretching helps you strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility. And post-workout stretching can help reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which can lead to muscle cramps and stiffness.           

Hold each of the following stretches for 10 to 30 seconds and stretch evenly on both sides. There will be a mild discomfort with a good stretch, but it should never feel painful. Be sure to avoid bouncing or holding your breath as you stretch.

Hamstring stretch: Stand with one foot on a low bench or step. Slowly bend forward, as if you’re trying to touch your nose to the knee of your raised leg. Straighten up after 10 or more seconds and repeat with the other leg.

Calf stretch: Stand facing a wall or tree and place both hands on it. Place one foot forward with knee bent and the other leg back with the leg straight. Lean forward while keeping your back leg straight and your heels flat on the floor. Hold the position for 10 or more seconds, then ease back to being upright. Repeat with the other leg.

Hip flexor stretch: Lunge one leg forward with knee bent and keep the back leg straight or slightly bent. Keeping your torso upright and your front knee behind your toes, push your hips forward. You should feel a stretch in front of your back thigh near the groin. Hold for 10 or more seconds, then switch which leg is in front and repeat.

Inner thigh stretch: Stand with feet wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your torso straight and lean to one side with a bent knee over the toe. Make sure the other leg stays straight. Hold for 10 or more seconds; release and repeat on the other side.

Chest stretch: Place your fingertips lightly on the back of your head. Push your elbows back while squeezing with your upper back until you feel a stretch in your chest near your underarms. Hold for 10 or more seconds.

Do these at the end of your walk, after you’ve cooled down by walking at a slower pace for a couple minutes.

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians, American Heart Association

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