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One of the most neglected components of exercise, stretching prevents injuries and feels good. Due to time constraints, we often neglect our stretching and only concern ourselves with getting our scheduled mileage completed. If you are tempted to make this compromise, don't. Sacrifice one mile of your workout and make sure you stretch properly.

Stretching can prevent injuries. I learned this the hard way. If you do not stretch properly you will lose more mileage because of injuries, than the few miles you will miss taking the time to stretch. Therefore, before we discuss how to walk properly, we are going to spend considerable time discussing stretching. Some of the stretches detailed are common to many forms of exercise while others are unique to walking.

While I list many possible stretches, it is not necessary for you to do everyone everyday. However, it is recommended that you select at least one stretch for each group of muscles. Also, it is a good idea to stretch on your days off from walking. This will allow your body to be more fully recovered for your next workout.

Take your time to stretch using good technique. Improper form will lead to stretching the wrong group of muscles. Generally, unless otherwise noted, all stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds. When stretching, do not bounce in an attempt to stretch a little farther. You need only stretch far enough to feel your muscles elongating. After all, the goal is not to stretch until it hurts, but to warm up the muscle and prepare it for exercise.

Contrary to popular belief, stretching before you walk is not the recommended prescription. If you stretch without exercising at all, you are stretching cold muscles, which is less effective. Instead, begin your exercise routine by walking a little bit at a very leisurely pace to warm up and get the blood flowing through your muscles, then follow with your stretches. After completing your walking, your workout is not complete. You should finish your workout by stretching again. This will help minimize any chance of injury.

Often when starting an exercise program it is difficult to remember everything that you need to do. That is why I recommend stretching from the bottom of your body and working your way up. This helps you from forgetting what stretches you have already done.

The first stretches we will discuss are for the major muscle groups in the legs. It is especially important in race walking to stretch every muscle group. In race walking we are going to use each of these muscle groups to help you walk faster and get a better overall workout. For those who are not familiar with the names of the different muscle groups, I have included the following diagram.

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