As our days get longer and warmer, I find myself venturing out more.  If you do, too, you may find these warm-up and cool down stretches helpful.

According to www.GORP.com, in the field of sports, backpacking/hiking stands alone as the only endurance sport in which the participants do not regularly perform a warm-up. Distance cyclers and marathon runners have long benefited from a good stretching routine before exercising. Stretching gradually increases heart rate, temperature and circulation to your muscles. Basically, stretching is like warming up your car on a cold morning. After a night's rest, your muscles need warming. Stretching gets the body going and increases your flexibility.

"Muscles or joints that lack adequate flexibility are more susceptible to injury," says Dr. Frank C. McCue, III, Director of the Sports Medicine Division of the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. "Good flexibility can prevent injury and enhance performance."

How to Stretch

When beginning to stretch, pick a level spot free of stones and sticks. Each of the stretches described in this article should be held for at least 10 seconds at the point of tension, during which time the tension should begin to decrease. Exhale as you lean into the stretch. During the stretch, you should relax and breathe steadily. Do not bounce during the stretch. Bouncing can tear at the muscles and tendons, creating damage that won't be able to heal as you hike. Also, do not overstretch. That is, don't push yourself too far. A small burning feeling is all right, pain is not.

Any or all of the stretches listed are also helpful during the cool down period after the walk or hike.

Calf Stretch

  • Find a flat rock or stump that offers enough room for you to stand several inches off the ground.
  • Stand on the rock and back your feet up so that your heels hang off the rock.
  • Lower both heels until you feel the stretch in your calves.
  • Raise both heels, then alternately lower your right then left heel, stretching each for 10 seconds.
  • If you have a hiking partner, he/she can help you keep balanced.

Quad Stretch

Another muscle that needs warming up is the quadriceps, along the front of the thigh.
1) While standing, hold onto a tree to assist in balance.

2) Bend your knee back by grasping your ankle with one hand.

3) Assist in bending your knee back as far as possible.

4) Maintain position for 10 seconds.

And Then.... Go have fun!

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