woman walking outdoors in activewear

Walking: do you need to stretch before or after a walk?

Posted by for Strength

We know that if we  go running without warming up and cooling down, we risk injury. But is it ok to head out walking without mobilising first, and stretching out after? We asked an expert. 

It’s no secret that a warmup before you go for a run or start a strength training session is crucial to ensuring peak performance and avoiding injury as you work out. Often involving mobility exercises, stretching, or low-intensity cardio, taking the time to warm up before exercising will help to get your muscles and joints ready to work hard. 

And we also know that if we don’t stretch out afterwards, we’ll feel it the next day. From sore runner’s knees to DOMS, a good cool down is essential to relieve muscle tightness and help us recover quicker

“Deciding whether we need to include stretching into our training regime depends on what you are aiming to gain from it,” says Hollie Grant, founder of Pilates PT. “If you are about to partake in an activity that requires good flexibility such as dance or gymnastics, then stretching could be helpful. If, on the other hand you are about to take part in something more cardiovascular based, such as cycling or running, you would be better off concentrating on warming up with lower intensity cardiovascular exercise.”

Throughout the previous lockdowns, many of us got our exercise in the form of a once-a-day walk, and we’re keeping it going even now restrictions have eased.  But if this is how you chose to move, should you be warming up beforehand? 

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Hollie recommends trying mobility moves if you’re feeling stiff or simply want to optimise your walking.

“A warm up is often a less intense version of what you are about to do, but as walking is already low intensity, warming up for it is less important,” says Hollie.

However, if you are about to go for a longer or faster walk, therefore increasing the intensity of it, or you experience pain or injury during your walks, then mobilising beforehand might benefit you.

“If someone is particularly tight, has old injuries in their calves, hamstrings, quads or glutes, or usually have a very sedentary lifestyle, they may want to do some mobility exercises before heading out,” says Hollie. “But static stretching can have the effect of slowing down or switching off a muscle, and this is not what we want to be doing before a workout. Focus instead on mobility to prime the body for what it is about to do.”

How to stretch before a walk

Hollie recommends trying these mobility moves if you’re feeling stiff or simply want to optimise your walking. 

Calf raises

Your calf muscles are one of the main muscles utilised when walking and running. Get them warm by raising up on to your toes, feeling the stretch through the calf muscle, then lower again. 

Squats

Walking for long distances can be tough on the hips, so starting with some simple squats to engage and mobilise the joints will do wonders for your walking. 

Lunges

For the same reason, lunges are a great move to do before heading out. As they are a unilateral move, they’ll help with any imbalances, too. 

Ankle circles

Your ankles don’t only keep the feet moving, but are responsible for knee and hip stability. Mobilising the ankles can reduce full body pain.

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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