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Do a set of high knees before you hike, bike or run.
Dynamic stretches -- including arms swings, hip circles and head rolls -- warm up and prepare your body for more intense physical activity. High knees -- a lower-body dynamic stretch -- increase circulation to your lower limbs, improve range of motion in your hip and knee joints, and lightly stretch the muscles you need for more intense cardio and strength-training workouts. Whether you're heading out for a short hike or training for your next 5K, high knees can help you warm up, perform better and possibly lower your risk of injury.
High knees -- also known as high-knee walks, marches, runs and grabs -- stretch a variety of muscles above and below your waist, but the gluteal muscles that make up your buttocks are the primary focus. As you raise your right knee above waist-height, the muscles that comprise your right buttock lengthen. When you raise your left knee, your left gluteals lengthen. Because driving your knees up to the front mimics the leg action you need for a variety of sports and fitness activities, the high-knee stretch prepares your glutes for the hardcore cardio or strength-training portion of your workout. As a result, performing a set of high knees can boost your athletic performance and protect you from sports-related glute strain.
To perform high-knee runs, begin at one end of a room, dance studio, playing field or other open space. Begin running slowly with your hands on your hips. As you step forward on one foot, drive the other knee toward your chest. Gradually pick up the pace and increase the height of your knee-lift to intensify the glute stretch. Keep your steps small and sprightly, avoid hinging forward or backward at the waist and stay on the balls of your feet. Continue the high-knee run for about 20 yards.
Involving Your Shoulders
As you gain confidence and develop an even rhythm with your legs, add an alternating arm swing to warm up and stretch your shoulder muscles. With every step forward, drive your opposite arm to the front. Keep your abs engaged, your torso upright and your elbows bent at 90-degree angles. Breathing evenly will allow your shoulders to relax, resulting in a more effective stretch.
Knee grabs are more sedate than high-knee runs, but they elicit a deeper stretch in the glutes and lengthen the hip flexors of your supporting leg. Starting at one end of your workout space, step forward on your right foot and grasp your left shin with both hands. Pull the shin toward your chest while shifting your weight up and over the ball of your right foot. When your weight is centered over your standing leg, your hip flexors are fully extended, which results in a gentle but effective stretch.
Whatever high-knee variation you use before your workouts, do five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity before launching into the stretch. If maintaining your balance is an issue, do your high knees adjacent to a wall and move your fingertips along the wall for light support. Include a set of high knees in your overall dynamic stretching routine, which should target other key areas, including your neck, shoulders, lower back, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and ankles. Throughout your stretching routine, make it your goal to use proper form and maintain total control. Aim for smooth, continuous and flowing movement.