As the weather improves, Americans will start exercising, going faster and further than ever before. Unfortunately, it’s not until the next day that we pay for our increased activity – with muscle soreness and tightness.
The solution to the problem is simple. When we walk, certain muscles naturally contract, meaning they shorten. If we never take the time to lengthen them by stretching, they stay short. Over time, this shrinkage slows us down and makes us feel stiff and awkward.
The following stretches target two important areas that walkers tend to neglect when stretching: the calf and front of the hip. Tightness in these muscles prevents us from walking with proper form: landing on the heel with the forefoot high, so that the foot and calf form a 90 degree angle. Try it. If your calf muscles are tight, you won’t get anywhere near 90 degrees.
Proper technique also means taking nice, long strides, and that requires flexible hip flexor muscles.
In general, the hip flexors cross internally through the pelvis, attaching the lower back to the thigh bone. When they get tight and short, they pull the lower back forward, causing swayback, which can lead to pressure and pain. With muscles long and limber, walking feels more like gliding. Most experts agree that the best time to stretch is after the muscles have had a chance to warm up – that means after at least 5 to 10 minutes of moderate walking before you begin your brisk walk. What’s best is to stretch again at the very end of your walk. Bodies are individual, so experiment and see when stretching out feels best to you.
To stretch the upper calf, stand facing a park bench, wall or chair. Place your hands on the back of one of them for support. Slide your right leg back two or three feet and lean forward onto your left leg, knee slightly bent. To stretch the right calf, straighten the right leg, press the heel into the ground and let the hip come forward. Hold for 30 seconds.
When stretching the lower calf, while in the position as described above, bend your knee just beyond the first point of resistance and hold again for 30 seconds. Concentrate on keeping the heel pressing downward even as your knee bends.
Now to stretch the hip flexors, while still in the beginning position, release your hands and put them on your hips and lift your torso to upright. If you have trouble balancing, turn sideways to the bench, wall or chair and hold on. Come up on your back toes, bend both knees slightly and slowly tilt your pelvis by gently scooping your buttocks under and tightening your lower abdominal muscles, until you feel a stretch at the front of your right hip. The more you tilt, the more you feel the stretch. Once again hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the entire sequence to the left.
It may sound confusing but with a little guidance you can perform these stretches easily.