Cooling Down and Stretching Out in Fitness Walking

Avoid coming to a dead stop when  you’re  done with  your  walking  workout. Just  as you had  to allow your  heart, mind, and muscles to get used to the idea that you were  picking  up the  pace, you have  to give them the  same chance to realize you’re slowing down. A cool-down is exactly what it says: cooling down your  body  after  heating it up during a workout. Don’t just  jump  into  your  car or into the shower. Let your  system cool off and return gradually to its steady state. Repeat what  you  did  in the  warm-up. Walk slowly  for about 5 minutes (or more if the workout was long and very intense), rolling your shoulders and shaking out  your  hands. Now you’re  ready to stretch deeply.

No fitness program can  be  well rounded without exercises for  flexibility. Flexibility  exercises should be  the  unquestioned finish  for every walk, with additional stretching on rest days  or as cross-training. Think also about doing casual or impromptu stretches, such as a back stretch while sitting at your  desk  or a calf stretch while waiting  in the  grocery checkout line.

Cooling Down and Stretching Out in Fitness WalkingIf you don’t  stretch, walking,  like any other activity, will slowly  tighten the muscles in your buttocks (gluteal group), the backs of your thighs (hamstrings), and your calves (gastrocnemius). It’s important to follow the flexibility exercises in this  article to continue walking injury  free and  comfortably.

Muscles shorten as  they  tire  during exercise. Stretching after  a workout will return them to their preworkout length and  perhaps teach them to be a little more flexible. Working  out without stretching starts the  snowball effect: You don’t  stretch because you’re tight,  but  the  less  you  stretch, the  tighter you  get! A tight  muscle isn’t  only  uncomfortable, it often  signals weakness, and tightness and  weakness set  you up for strains and  other injuries. After a workout, your  muscles are  pliable and  ready to stretch without getting hurt. Follow three easy  rules when  you stretch:

  1. Stretch until you feel tension and  a mild discomfort, but  not  pain.  Hold the  stretch at this  point and  breathe deeply.
  2. Don’t bounce. Bouncing causes the muscles to protect themselves from overstretching by tightening. Yes, you’ll actually tighten your muscles if you bounce.
  3. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds to let the muscle relax. Continue to breathe deeply, and as the  muscle releases, you’ll be able  to stretch a bit farther.

If you follow the popular media, perhaps you’ve heard about the 2004 journal article from researchers who said they found no proof that stretching reduced injuries. That  research was  a thorough, well-done review of past studies on stretching to  assess that relationship. It concluded that stretching was  not

significantly associated with a reduction in injuries. However, it also said (and this is the part often left out) that there was not enough evidence to endorse or recommend discontinuing stretching exercises by active people before or after exercise, and it urgently called for more well-conducted studies to determine stretching’s proper role in sports and  exercise. So, the  bottom line is, don’t stop. Adding  a few stretches won’t hurt, and  the  review found that stretches did seem to show  increased flexibility if held long enough. Stretching just may provide preventive medicine.

The  following  stretches will help  you  loosen up  before  and  after  your walks.

Hamstrings

Stand about 2 feet away  from a bench or raised surface. Place  your  right  leg on  the  bench, allowing your  left leg to bend slightly. With your  hands resting on your right thigh, lean forward, bending at the  hips  and  keeping your  spine extended without hunching. Reach  forward with your chest and keep your  chin  from  dropping to your  chest. Repeat on the  other side.

Hips, Back, and Buttocks

Sit  on  the  ground with your legs extended forward. Bend  your  left leg and  cross  your  left foot over your right knee, placing your left foot on the ground on the outside of your straight right  knee  or lower  leg. Rest  on your left hand beside and  behind you  for support. Wrap  your  right  arm  around your left knee and gently  pull the knee toward you as you twist your head and torso in the direction of your  left arm. Repeat on the  opposite side.

Inner Thighs

Sit on the ground with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together.  Grasp your ankles and  lean forward, keeping your  back  straight as you  stretch and  trying to relax your  knees downward. You can also sit with your  back to a wall to help  you into this stretch.

Thighs and Hip Flexors

Stand with your right hand against a flat surface (such as a wall or tree) for balance and support. Bend your left leg behind you, grasping the ankle with your  left hand. Bend your right  knee slightly to help keep you from  swaying your  back.  Push your  left foot  back- ward  into your  hand while keeping the knee pointed toward the  ground and  your  hips  pressed forward. Repeat on the opposite side. Avoid this stretch if you have chronic knee pain. Also, avoid pulling your foot toward your  buttocks, as  this  will place excessive strain on your  knees.

Sides of  Legs

Stand next to a wall about an arm’s length away. Using your arm to support you, cross the leg farthest from the  wall over  the  front  of the  leg nearest the  wall. Push your  hip toward the wall, keeping the leg nearest  the  wall straight while  allowing  the  crossed leg to bend. Allow your  supporting arm to bend as your hip reaches toward the wall. Repeat on the opposite side.  Avoid turning or twisting your  body  toward or away from the  wall.

Shins

Place  the  top  of the  foot on the  ground behind you  and  press your  ankle  toward the  ground, allowing  your knee  to bend as  you stretch. Repeat on the  opposite side.  This  can  also  be done while sitting in a chair to achieve additional stretch through the  front  of your  lower  leg.

Calves

Face a wall with one foot close to the wall and one about two feet behind you.  The  knee  of the back  leg should remain straight with the heel on the ground. If you cannot maintain that position, bring the foot closer to the wall. The front leg should be bent at the knee  in a lunge like position. Place  your hands against the wall, and  then bend your arms as  you  lean  toward the wall, keeping your back straight and abdominals tight. To achieve a calf stretch, keep the rear heel on the floor. Repeat on opposite side. To stretch a different part of the calf, repeat above, but move  the rear foot in slightly and  bend the rear knee while still keeping the heel on the ground.

Back

Stand  about 18 inches away from a wall or flat surface with your  feet parallel to it. Turn  toward the  wall and place both hands on it at about chest height. Gently continue turning toward the wall, using your fingers to crawl  along  the  wall, reaching behind you. Repeat on the opposite side.

Low Back

Lie flat on  your  back.  Bend  your  knees and  bring  them toward your  chest while grasping behind your thighs. Pull  your knees toward your  shoulders until  your hips  come off the  ground. After holding the  stretch, extend your  legs slowly, one at a time. You can also do this stretch with one  knee  at a time pulled toward your chest. If you have  back  problems, check with your  doctor first.

Chest

Stand with your back to a wall. Reach back and place one of your palms on the wall with your wrist  facing out  and  your  arm outstretched at shoulder height. Gently turn your head and chest away from the wall as far as you can. Repeat on the opposite side.

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