Warming up and cooling down are helpful to prevent injury when walking, and also to create a sense of routine and order within your group. If you use the same exercises at each group, participants may feel comfortable taking turns leading warm-up and cool-down exercises.
Warming up before you start walking increases the temperature in your muscles and joints and increases blood flow. A warm-up will reduce the risk of injury and make exercise more comfortable.
The following routine of six exercises will take less than three minutes to do.
1. Ankle Circles
Standing on one foot, lift the other off the ground in front of you. Slowly flex that ankle through its full range of motion, making circles with the toes. Do 6—8 circles; then reverse the direction of your circle and do 6–8 more. Switch feet and repeat.
2. Leg Swings
Standing on one leg, swing the other leg loosely from the hip in a front-to-back motion. Keep it relaxed and unforced, like the swinging of a pendulum. Your foot should swing no higher than a foot or so off the ground. Do 15–20 swings of each leg.
3. Figure-8 Leg Swings
Just like the leg swings above, swing one leg from the hip in a front-to-back motion, but this time, trace a figure-8 with your leg. Your leg should trace a circle in front of the body and another circle behind. Do 15–20 swings of each leg.
4. Pelvic Loops
Stand with your hands on your hips, your knees gently bent, and your feet hip-width apart. Keep your body upright and make 10 slow, continuous circles with your hips, pushing them gently forward, to the left, back and to the right. Then reverse directions and repeat.
5. Arm Circles
Hold both arms straight out from your sides, making yourself into the letter T. Make 10–12 slow backward circles with your hands, starting small and finishing with large circles, using your entire arm. Shake out your arms, then repeat with 10–12 forward circles.
6. Hula-Hoop Jumps
Begin hopping in place on both feet. Keep your head and shoulders facing forward, and begin to twist your feet and lower body left, then right, going back and forth on successive hops, 20 times.
Source: America’s Walking (PBS)
After the main portion of your walk is complete, encourage participants to walk at a slower pace for 5–10 minutes. Consider including the following stretches as part of your cool-down; warmed muscles are more pliable and can be stretched safely. Instruct participants to hold each stretch with a comfortable amount of tension, on both sides, for a count of 20. Do not bounce.
1. Standing Gastrocnemius (Upper Calf) Stretch
Stand in a walking position with one leg stretched straight behind you and the other leg bent in front of you. Using a wall or chair for support, lean forwards and down until you feel the stretch in the upper part of your back calf. Make sure that both feet are pointing straight ahead and that your heels stay on the floor the whole time.
2. Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand in a stride standing position. Put both hands on your front knee while keeping the back knee straight. Push your pelvis forward while keeping your back straight. The stretch should be felt in front of the hip and slightly down the front of the thigh.
3. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Place one heel on a low step or bench and, keeping your knee and back straight, bend your upper body forward from your hips. You should feel the stretch behind your knee.
4. Standing Achilles Tendon Stretch
Standing with one leg slightly behind the other, push your heels down while bending your knees.
5. Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Hold onto something for support with one hand and grab your ankle with the other hand. Pull your ankle toward your bottom, then try to straighten your knee while resisting with your hand and allowing no movement. Then pull your ankle toward your bottom again.
Source: Walking Program Walk Leader Handbook (BCRPA)