The elephant walk exercise is a dynamic stretch that targets the hamstrings, calves, hips and lower back.
It’s easy to adapt, making it suitable for both beginners and those with good hamstring flexibility already.
You also don’t need any equipment, or much space… meaning there really aren’t any excuses for not giving it a go.
We like to use it as part of a dynamic warm-up, as well as within lower body stretching routines.
In this exercise guide, we outline how to perform elephant walks properly, benefits, common mistakes, as well as alternatives that provide similar outcomes.
- The elephant walk is a great way to stretch out the hamstrings, calves, hips and lower back.
- The exercise involves bending and extending the knees, while hinging forwards at the hips.
- This helps to improve hamstring flexibility and hip range of motion, which brings a whole host of benefits for athletic performance, injury prevention and healthy aging.
- Start by placing your hands on a raised surface to make it easier and slowly lower this until you can reach the floor.
What is the Elephant Walk Exercise?
The elephant walk exercise is a dynamic stretch that targets the hamstrings, calves, lower back, and hips. It gets its name from the resemblance of the gait (walk) of an elephant.
The movement involves hinging at the hips to lean your torso forward, and slowly walking your knees back and forth (i.e., you alternate straightening and bending your knees).
The elephant walk gained recent popularity by being featured and used in both the ATG System (better known as the “Knees Over Toes” training program, as well as in CrossFit classes.
We think it’s a great way to get the legs moving and stretched before more strenuous activity, such as running, as well as within lower body stretching routines.
Elephant Walks Progression/Regression
How to Perform the Elephant Walk Exercise
To do elephant walks:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. This is your starting position.
- Bend forward by hinging at the hips.
- Place your hands either on a raised surface, or on the floor.
- With your knees slightly bent, straighten your right leg (contract your quads), keeping your heels on the floor at all times.
- Subsequently relax your right leg by bending your right knee. As you do so, straighten your left leg.
- Repeat for repetitions and sets.
Coach’s Tip – Focus on slow, controlled repetitions. Try 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg to start with and see how you get on.
The elephant walk exercise primarily stretches your hamstrings, calves, hips and lower back.
Elephant Walk Benefits
The elephant walk is a great way to improve hamstring flexibility.
This can help prevent injuries and improve your performance in other exercises and physical activities.
Better hamstring flexibility isn’t just about being able to touch your toes… it helps to reduce tightness in the posterior chain and improve the biomechanics of all lower body movements, which can be a contributing factor to back pain and other MSK issues.
The elephant walk requires you to hinge at the hips and tests your hip range of motion.
Improving your hip hinge and increasing the amount you can move through this range of motion can have a significant impact on all sorts of movements (for example, bending down to get something out a cupboard).
Limiting hip range of motion is also likely to reduce athletic performance and impact natural movement paths for exercises like deadlifts and squats.
If you do find your hip stability and strength needs improving, an exercise like the hip airplane is a simple way to strengthening the muscles around the hips (as well as testing your stabiltiy and balance).
Coordination and Control
The elephant walk requires a certain level of coordination as you move your knees back and forth. This can help improve your overall coordination and body awareness, which are crucial for athletic performance and healthy aging.
It’s easy to measure your progress with elephant walks, because you can track how close to the ground you are placing your hands.
This is great for monitoring how your hamstring flexibility is changing.
Wall straddles are another stretch we like due to the fact they make it easy to measure your progress.
Strengthen and Stretch
Alternative Exercises that Work Similar Muscles
If you’re looking for other exercises that target similar muscle groups as the elephant walk, consider the following:
This yoga pose stretches your hamstrings and lower back, similar to the elephant walk. It also strengthens your shoulders and arms, making it a great full-body exercise.
It’s a static stretch, that doesn’t involve any movement once you’re in position.
A downward dog involves a bigger gap between your hands and feet, so it doesn’t test your hip hinge and range of motion as much as elephant walks.
It also puts more emphasis on the calves compared to elephant walks too.
This stretch targets your hamstrings and lower back. It’s a great exercise to improve flexibility and relieve tension in your lower body.
It’s basically an elephant walk without straightening and bending your knees. You simple bend forward at the hips and hold that position.
Inchworms also involve a forward bend and therefore share a lot of the biomechanics of elephant walks.
As well as stretching the posterior chain, inchworms will fire up your core and upper body… and also lend themselves well for HIIT workouts too.
We have a dedicated exercise guide that includes details on how to perform inchworms properly (as well as benefits and variations).
A common mistake people make with elephant walks is trying to bend beyond their limits, risking injury.
To avoid this, simply hinge forward until it feels natural to stop. If this means you can touch the floor, that’s great, but that means you need to place your hands on a raised platform, then that’s what you need to do.
To set expectations, placing your hands on the floor requires very good hamstring flexibility, so very few people will naturally be able to do this if they aren’t actively working on their flexibility.
You also want to try and avoid rocking the hips too much during elephant walks… this can often happen when you rush the movement.
Things to Consider
You may have heard elephant walks being recommended for lower back pain. We’d recommend seeking professional advice from a Physical Therapist before starting any new exercise if you’re currently experiencing lower back pain or discomfort.
Elephant walks can be a great way to address tightness in the back and hips (which could be contributing to your pain), but a Physical Therapist can provide personalized recommendations and ensure any exercises like elephant walks won’t do more harm than good for your specific circumstances.
The elephant walk is an effective exercise that offers a simple way to stretch your hamstrings, calves, hips and lower back.
Remember to perform the exercise with proper form and control to maximize its benefits and prevent injury.
Over time, try and lower your hands and see how far you can get to the floor. If you do reach the floor, try and work towards placing your hands as close to your feet as possible.
Featured image and video demonstration credit – Sports Rehab Expert