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How to Keep Limber While on Vacation

Stretching can help make it easier for those walking tours

By Rick Steves | By Rick Steves' Europe | December 6, 2012
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Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio.

Julie Williams, a personal trainer and fitness instructor who has been working with recreational athletes for over 25 years, offers these tips on stretching. She is based in Seattle.

Trekking about the countryside is great exercise. Benefits to the body are numerous — walking is weight-bearing exercise (which strengthens the bones), and it uses large body muscles (which means it burns a lot of calories!).

Just like any workout, however, walking is not a balanced exercise on its own.

Even experienced walkers know the feeling of tight muscles after a day on their feet.

Surprisingly, the "working" muscles of your lower body may not even feel fatigue as much as the supporting musculature of your hips and back. With this in mind (and knowing that a Swedish massage is not always around the next corner), I'd like to recommend my easy version of stretches for weary walkers. They're the same ones I've trained Rick to do, and he actually admits they feel good! So after a long day of standing in museums or trudging down the beaten path, take a few minutes and treat yourself to these simple stretches.

Some tips to remember:
  • Never stretch a cold muscle. Do these stretches after you've been up and about for a while.
  • Never force a stretch. Just hold at a point of gentle tension for 15–30 seconds.
  • Never bounce or jerk while stretching. Move slowly and breathe!
  • After walking, or any time you feel the need to relieve tension in your legs, stretch the muscles that work the hardest: the front of the leg (quadriceps), the back of the leg (hamstring), and the calves.

Quadriceps

Balance against a wall or post with your right hand. Bend your left knee and bring your foot up behind you grabbing it with your left hand. Some of you will feel enough stretch right now; others may need to direct the knee backward a little more. If you couldn't grab the foot at all, put the top of your foot behind you on a bench or chair or railing. Keep your hips forward. Hold for a few seconds, then switch legs.

Hamstrings

First, find a surface to stretch on: a curb, a bench, a railing. The more flexible you are, the higher the surface. Place the heel of your right foot on the surface, keeping both legs straight. Hands can rest on your right thigh as you lean forward a bit. Do strive to keep your spine straight by bending from the hip and pushing your tailbone back. If you want more stretch, pull your toes back. Hold for a few seconds, then switch legs.

Calves

The easiest way to stretch the calves and Achilles tendon is on a step. Keeping your right knee straight, stand with the ball of your right foot on the edge of a step while you allow your right heel to slope back off the edge. Stretch one leg at a time and do not bounce.

When you are checked in to your room for the night and have a little floor space, try these stretches that focus on the hips, back and torso.

Seated on the floor, hold your left leg straight out and set your right foot on the floor just at the inside of left knee, with your knee pointed up. Sitting up straight, with your hips facing forward, twist your torso slowly to the right, reaching around your right knee with your left arm and placing your right hand on the floor behind you. Keeping your chin lifted and chest out, look back over the right shoulder. Hold for at least 15 seconds, then change sides.

Lie flat on your back and pull your right knee toward your chest while keeping the left leg straight and flat on the ground. Try to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed while you gently pull the knee in. Hold for at least 15 seconds. Now, place just your left hand over that right knee and slowly rotate the knee to the left side of your body. Your right hip will roll off the floor as your left knee gets close to the floor. Look toward your right hand which should be out at shoulder height on the floor. Hold another 15 seconds, then switch legs and repeat both stretches.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.
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