We’ve already discussed the benefits of stretching and the best way to warm up before a walk. In this article, we’ll explore how to stretch and cool down after your walk. There’s a quick overview of the process below, but this article will largely focus on specific stretches and exercises for your warm down routine. As with any routine, it’s important to finish strong, so we’ll examine the best cool down stretches to maximize the benefits of your exercise.
The Workout Process
Working out is a process. Skipping a step in that process can lead to injuries that can bring your healthy habits to a sudden stop. The steps in the workout process are:
- Warm Up: Begin with slow walking or another very slow-paced exercise. This begins to warm your muscles so they will face less risk of damage during your regular exercise.
- Stretch: Practice dynamic stretches before you walk. Focus on your legs, hips, and back, although warming up other areas won’t hurt, either. Try high stepping, heel to toe steps, and hip circles to stretch your legs. More details are available for each of these in the “Best Pre-Walking Stretches” article.
- Exercise: This is the core of your routine. At this point, it’s safe for walkers to hit the trail or treadmill. However, it’s still a good idea to vary your walking speed and to start off fairly slow. These two simple tricks can help you get the most out of your workout.
- Cool Down: At the end of your exercise routine, gradually slow your pace so you do not come to a sudden stop after hitting peak speed or resistance. Once your heart rate begins to slow, you can begin your cool down stretches. Unlike the dynamic stretches from the beginning of your routine, these stretches can be static. They can incorporate basic stretches you probably learned in elementary school, and even poses borrowed from light yoga.
Consequences of Skipping Post-Walking Stretches
It’s easy to throw in the towel and head for the couch after a nice, long walk, but your routine isn’t over until you’ve stretched. If you choose not to stretch, you are undoing a lot of the good work you just did, missing vital fitness opportunities, and increasing the likelihood that your next session will result in injury. The risks of skipping cool down stretches include:
- A build-up of lactic acid in the muscles which promotes stiffness, aches, and pains
- Losing important psychological benefits
- Chances of injury during your next workout increase
- Missing the optimal time to improve your flexibility
Key Areas to Stretch During Your Cool Down Routine
Although you can always perform full body stretches after a walk while your muscles are warm and pliable, it’s especially important to stretch out the muscles you most used during your walk. If you have time for nothing else, make sure to target these key areas:
- Inner Thighs
The Best Cool Down Stretches for Walkers
Inner Thighs, Hips, and Groin
Sit on the floor with your feet pressed together. Put your knees as close to the floor as possible and use your hands to hold the soles of your feet together so your ankles rest flat on the floor. Pull your heels as close to your groin as possible and relax.Don’t move too quickly and don’t press too far forward. Hold the position for at least thirty seconds and repeat as often as you comfortable can.
Find a sturdy wall. Cross your arms and lean against it with your head resting on your hands. Position your legs like you’re doing a short lunge. One foot should be farther back with a straight leg. The other should be closer to the wall, under your shoulders, with a bent knee. Gradually move your weight onto the bent leg by moving your hips forward and keeping your lower back straight. Be careful not to bounce. Hold at least thirty seconds and repeat as often as is comfortable. Repeat the entire process with the opposite leg. (Jump to 1:10 in the video for a demonstration of this stretch.)
Lift your right foot behind you and lift it toward your buttocks with your left hand. Hold this position for at least thirty seconds. Slowly drop your right foot and repeat the same steps with your left foot and right hand. Repeat this process as often as you wish. (The trainer in the video utilizes a different grip.)
Sit with your legs in the shape of a V in front of you. Take one foot and touch the bottom of that foot to the inner thigh of the opposite leg. You should press your right foot against your left thigh, or your left foot against your right thigh. The other leg should remain straight with the toes pointed up. Reach toward the toes of the straight leg without bending your lower back. Hold for at least thirty seconds, repeat with the opposite leg, and repeat as often as you comfortably can.
Rest flat on your back with your knees bent. Use your hips and abs to press the small of your back into the ground. Hold for thirty seconds and repeat as often as is comfortable.
From the same position (flat on your back with your knees bent), left one knee and pull it towards your chest. Hold for at least thirty seconds. Gently lower the leg back into position and repeat with the opposite leg. (The trainer in the video lifts both knees at once.)
Sit in a chair and cross one foot over the opposite knee. Using your hand as a guide, move your ankle in a clockwise roll until you’ve stretched its full range of motion. Repeat the stretch in a counterclockwise direction. Repeat as often as is comfortable. Uncross your legs. Repeat process with opposite ankle.
Fitness is a process, and the many steps in that process have their own steps. A workout has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s important to finish all parts of your workout in order to get the best results. Stretching after a walk improves flexibility, reduces soreness, and provides many hidden benefits. It’s an excellent practice that can improve any walker’s workouts.