By Erin Palinski-Wade

Whether you have already started walking for weight loss or are just considering getting started, you want to make sure that you stretch on a regular basis. Although it may seem as somewhat of an afterthought, stretching is vital to your success as a walker working to lose weight and improve health.

Taking the time to stretch can help to protect against injury, enhance circulation, lower stress levels, increase flexibility and balance, and even increase your energy level. But when it comes to stretching, making sure to do it correctly is key. Improper stretching can increase your risk for injury and therefore increase the changes of hampering your ability to walk for weight loss. However, proper stretching can actually help you to start to see results even faster.

Stretching cold muscles increases injury risk. For that reason, you should always stretch after your muscles are warm. You can do this by walking lightly for a few minutes, stretch, and continue on with your walking workout. Or you can perform more challenging stretches at the end of your walking workout. This is usually the best option as it can help to enhance muscle recovery after your walk and prevent muscle soreness.

Hamstring stretch

With regular walking, your hamstrings can tighten over time, which can lead to lower back pain and imbalances in your body. Stretching your hamstrings regularly after each walk can help to increase your flexibility and prevent against injury or pain.

To perform the hamstring stretch, stand with your feet staggers, with your left foot a few inches out in front of your right foot. Flex your left foot so that your toe is lifted off of the ground. Now, while pulling your abdominal muscles in slightly, lean forward from your hips while keeping your chest lifted and back straight. Place the palms of your right hand on top of your right thigh for support. Hold this position for 30 seconds, the repeat the stretch on the opposite side with your right foot in front.

Calf stretch

Failing to stretch out your calves after walking can result in tightening of this muscle, leg cramps, shin splints, and even can increase the strain on your Achilles tendon. However, performing a calf stretch is easy to do and can help to prevent against numerous injuries.

To perform the calf stretch, stand arms’ length away from a wall, facing in toward the wall. Stand with your legs staggered so that your right leg is nearest to the wall. Lower yourself into a lunge position, where your right knee is slightly bent and your left leg is as straight as possible. Lean forward, pressing your palms into the wall while keeping your chest up and back straight. While leaning into the wall, press the heel of your left foot into the ground. You should feel a stretch in your left calf. Hold this for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite leg.

Toe touch

To help stretch your hamstrings and lower back to protect against strain and tight muscles, use gentle toe touches. To perform, stand upright with your abdominals pulled in and feet shoulder width apart. Bend forward at your waist, keeping your back straight. As you bend forward, allow your knees to bend slightly (soft knees). Lower your upper body toward the floor. Only bend as far as comfortable and work over time toward lowering yourself closer and closer to reaching your toes or the floor. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then slowly stand back up.

Quad stretch

Stretching your quadriceps muscles is important, as tight quads can increase pain in your knees and back as well as increase your risk for injury. To stretch this muscle, start by standing upright with your feet about hip width apart. Using a chair or a wall for balance, bend your left knee upward so that your left heel is lifted toward your backside. Using your right hand, hold onto your left foot and pull it gently closer to your backside. Use your left hand to maintain your balance against the chair or wall. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, the repeat on the opposite side.

Hip flexor stretch

Repeated walking with little to no stretching can result in tight hip flexors. When these tighten, your body can be forced out of alignment, resulting in increased pain, especially in your back and hips. To perform this stretch, kneel down on the floor with your left knee bent and in front of you with your left foot flat on the floor. Keeping your abdominals pulled in and your chest up, place your hands on top of your left thigh for balance. Slowly pull your chest up while leaning slightly forward, keeping your shoulders back and down. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat with the opposite leg.

Leg twist

Regular walking, especially when walking at an incline or at a fast pace, can lead to tight gluteus muscles. This stretch will help to decrease muscle tightness in this area and help to protect against lower back pain.

Lay down on the floor with your back flat against the floor. Bend your left knee while keeping your left foot flat on the floor. Now, bring your right ankle up and rest it across the top of your left thigh. Once you are in this position, raise your left leg until your thigh is perpendicular to the floor. Using your hands, wrap them around your left thigh and lightly pull your leg back toward your chest to enhance the stretch. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then release. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Butterfly

Although often ignored, stretching the groin is essential in preventing groin pulls which can sideline your walking routine. The butterfly stretch is an effective way to stretch this area. To perform this stretch, sit down on the floor with your back straight and chest raised. Bend your legs to bring soles of your feet together. Allow your knees to lower to the sides as much as possible without discomfort. Keeping your chest up and back straight, slowly lower forward at your hips. As you lower toward your feet, grasp your hands around your feet to help pull yourself closer. You may also use your elbows to gently push your knees lower to the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds then release. Repeat this exercise three times.

Standing straddle stretch

Tight hamstrings, lower back, and groin can all lead to increased pain, stiffness, and muscle strains. However, the standing straddle stretch helps to increase flexibility in all of these areas, keeping your body as healthy as possible.

To perform this stretch, stand upright with your legs separated into a wide straddle (at least wider than shoulder width) and toes slightly turned out. Lower your body from your hips while keeping your back straight. Lower your upper body down towards your left toe with your knee slightly bent. Allow your upper body to lower only until you feel a slight stretch, and then hold this position for 30 seconds and then slowly stand up back. Repeat on the right side.

Shoulder stretch

You may think that only your lower body needs to be stretched after walking, but that’s not true. Your entire body is utilized when walking, including your arms and shoulders which help to propel your body forward as you walk, especially when walking at an incline. To stretch your shoulders, start by standing upright with feet shoulder width apart. Bring your left arm straight across your chest. Using your right hand or forearm, pull your left arm in tight to your chest. As you do this, make sure your shoulders stay down and do not pull your arm at the elbow joint. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other arm.

Neck relaxer

Don’t overlook your neck when it comes to stretching. Although it’s very important to only gently stretch this area, making sure to maintain flexibility in your neck is vital to a healthy spine and body.

To gently stretch your neck, slowly turn and look over your right shoulder and hold for 15 seconds. The repeat on the left side. As you perform this stretch, make sure you don’t tilt your neck backwards or hyperextend. Also, avoid using your hands to assist in this stretch. Only turn your neck as far as it will comfortably go on its own.