LEG WORK Strolling and browsing can be harder on the legs than you might think.
In many ways that statement in the headline makes no sense, but for my family, it’s an excuse to have a cold beer with your lunch when on holidays. Not a massive session, just one or two; enough to relax after a hard morning of being a tourist. Lunch is routinely followed by a siesta because, after all, it is hard work being a tourist.
There is though, a ring of truth in this nonsense. Just this week I had a lady in the clinic who was in town being a tourist. The poor thing had done her usual long run on the weekend before getting in the car to come to Westport for a few days. One leg had felt a bit tight when she arrived, so she did a few stretches and all seemed good. But after spending the following day strolling around town, browsing in shops and maybe stopping for a cold, socially distanced beer with her lunch costing at least €9, the leg felt an awful lot worse.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “Why would my leg be so much worse when I’m not really doing anything?” But here’s the thing – she was almost certainly working harder than she would on a normal day.
Take a moment to think about it. Most of us have relatively sedentary jobs, we might have to move around a bit, but in order to get our daily step count up we usually have to consciously go for a walk or run. What do you do on a short break in a new town? Walk around for hours on end.
“But it’s only strolling and browsing, not real walking – and I run three times a week.” True, but there’s something else to bear in mind, strolling and browsing is very different to going for a walk around the block.
When we walk, our legs act like inverted pendulums, moving us incredibly efficiently over the ground. It’s why if you have to go a long way, it’s easier to walk than run. The problem with strolling around town and looking in shops is that you are repeatedly having to stop and restart your pendulum.
As you dodge through crowds and check the sale racks, you’ll do a fair bit of twisting and turning too, which demands more muscular effort than just walking in a nice straight line. Anyone who has ever worked in a busy pub or restaurant knows this feeling only too well; walking backwards and forwards in a very confined space for a long shift is exhausting on the legs.
Given that you are on holidays, chances are you’re wearing different shoes to normal as well. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve told people that their sandals aren’t bad, just different. Most of us live in the same half-dozen pairs of shoes all year round, then either buy some new ones or pull out ‘holiday shoes’ for going away. The advice about not changing runners the day of a race is just as valid when it comes to doing a lot of walking, and for many people it’s the legs that bear the symptoms of foot discomfort.
Why write this piece now, when we are being advised not to travel out of the country this year? Precisely because we are being advised not to travel internationally. Sun holidays tend to involve a reasonable amount of sitting on a beach or by a pool, giving the legs a rest. But, let’s be honest with each other, we might not get many chances to do that on this year’s staycations, meaning there will be more walking.
When the legs get tired a simple calf stretch can provide quick relief. Try facing a wall or bench, placing your hands on there for balance. Put one foot back slightly, keeping the toes pointing forward and the heel on the ground. Now straighten the back knee and ease your hips forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. Hold that for 30 seconds and do it whenever you feel the need.
Remember as well to pack your comfy shoes as well as the fancy ones. And don’t be afraid to sit down with a well-earned cool drink from time to time. After all, it’s hard work being a tourist.
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at