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Improve your walking and minimize injuries with 3 of the best walking stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated May 9, 2019
While walking may not seem like a strenuous exercise, walking fast for long distances can cause serious muscle injuries. Incorporate regular walking stretches into your walk training schedule to prepare your body for the physical demands of walking.
Muscles used in Walking
Whether for exercise or sport, walking is an activity that requires cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Good lower body strength is required, especially when walking hills. Balance is essential when Race Walking or walking on uneven terrain. Walkers also require good strength in their lower body to ensure balance and endurance. Race Walking rules require the walker to adhere to a strict form that is taxing on the hips and legs.
The major muscles used when walking are:
- The muscles of the legs; the calves – gastrocnemius and soleus, and the upper leg-the quadriceps and hamstrings.
- The muscles of the hips; the adductor and abductor muscles, the hip flexors, and the gluteals.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the upper extremities and shoulder; the biceps, the tricepsand the deltoids.
Most Common Walking Injuries
Walking is a very repetitive, low impact activity. Most injuries associated with walking are chronic (repetitive overuse) injuries, although occasional trauma may occur. Common walking injuries include:
- Lower back strain;
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome;
- Illiotibial band (ITB) syndrome;
- Hip flexor strain;
- Hamstring strain;
- Lower leg injuries, including shin splints, ankle sprain and Achilles tendinitis; and
- Plantar fasciitis.
Injury Prevention Strategies
A good overall conditioning program and the use of proper equipment will help prevent most injuries associated with walking. Here are a few other tips for preventing walking injuries.
- A proper warm-up will help prepare the muscles and joints for walking.
- A thorough cool down with stretches after your walk will help you stay loose and prevent muscle soreness.
- Improved cardiovascular fitness will help to prevent fatigue and build resistance to injury.
- A good cross-training program, including the use of weights, will ensure that the muscles are ready for the work at hand.
- Practice balance, agility and proprioception drills to improve knee and ankle stability.
- Good flexibility training will reduce injuries from tight and inflexible muscles.
- Using properly sized and fitted shoes will help reduce blisters and prevent alignment issues.
- Have your walking gait analysed and use orthotic inserts if needed.
- Using ankle supports (braces, taping, strapping, etc.) can reduce the incidence of ankle sprains.
- Choosing level, well maintained walking areas, such as a track or groomed trail, will help prevent traumatic injuries to the knee and ankle.
The Benefits of Walking Stretches
Incorporating walking stretches as part of a walking training program has a number of benefits: Stretching increases the length of muscles and tendons, which in turn increases your range of motion. With an increased range of motion, you can move more comfortably and freely. Regular walking stretches can also help prevent injuries. And finally, even the most basic walking stretches just make you feel better.
The 3 Best Walking Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Below are 3 of the best stretches for walking; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Squatting Leg-out Adductor and Groin Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
Kneeling Hip and Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Standing Toe-up Lower Calf and Achilles Stretch: Stand upright and place the ball of your foot onto a step or raised object. Bend your knee and lean forward.
Watch the Walking Stretches video
Click on the play button below if you prefer to follow along to a 10 minute video of the best stretches for walking.
These walking stretches are best done after walking, as part of your cool down. They can also be done as a stand-alone stretching session to improve your walking flexibility, but make sure you’re fully warmed up before starting the stretches.
Want more Walking Stretches?
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You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. The DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.
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Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 6). Walking, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Francis, P. Richman, N. Patterson, P. (1998). Injuries in the sport of racewalking. Journal of Athletic Training, 33(2), 122.
- Blake, R. Ferguson, H. (1993). Walking and hiking injuries. A one year follow-up study. Journal of American Podiatric Medical Association, 83(9):499-503.
- Nagano, H. Begg, R. (2018). Shoe-insole technology for injury prevention in walking. Sensors, 18(5), 1468.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(10), 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.