Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise, and almost anyone can do it. It’s something we do every day. We take it for granted in that we know how to do it. But have you ever wondered how you could maximize your walking workout?
In this story you’ll find:
Everyone has their own walking style
First, it’s important to understand we all have our own walking style. Just take a seat in the park and observe how people walk. You’ll find a variety of movement patterns that all qualify as walking: There’s the bounce walker that has a little hop in each step as they move. The forward movement is less than the vertical movement, but they still are walking. There’s the shuffle walker that barely lifts their feet off the ground as they walk. There’s the duck walker that points their toes outward as they take each step. You’ll definitely notice some interesting styles of walking.
Is walking intuitive?
So walking isn’t as intuitive as one might think. From a biomechanics standpoint, one should walk with their toes pointing forward, rolling off the ball of the foot and swinging the leg straight in line as they put one foot in front of the other. With the toes pointing forward, the knee joint is in better alignment since it is a hinge joint. As the toes bends and the foot rolls forward, the leg extends using the back-side glute muscles to propel the body forward. With the leg swinging forward, the quads lift the leg to step in front. This all happens without a thought just like breathing. But just like breathing, there are some things you should be doing that lead to better breathing and some things to keep in mind for more efficient and effective walking. After all, we started walking without instructions for how to do it; we just learned by watching our parents.
We learned how to walk from watching our parents
This leads to the position that we learn from imprinting as we grow. The way our parents walk is most likely the same way we will walk. You may have seen a family walking along and noticed that they all have the same posture, bounce and movement pattern. It comes from imprinting. But just because it comes to you intuitively doesn’t mean that you’re walking efficiently, however. And just like driving a car in the same direction most of the time, if you only walk forward, you’ll start to develop strength patterns that pull the body forward. This makes it no surprise that as we age, the body starts to curve forward and over if you don’t make changes to your movement patterns and add in some posture and back side training, you may develop back or neck pain.
Hence, here’s a guide to walking better, more efficiently and with less chance for injury when you take a walk.
3 Tips to Improve Your Walking Workout
Point the toes forward. Although you may have feet that turn out while you walk and it’s been that way for years, there’s no better time than now to start becoming more aware. Focus on keeping your toes pointed straight ahead. The IT band connective tissue (the connective tissue that runs along the outside of your leg from the hip to the knee and shinbone) tightens as the hip flexors become stronger than the back side muscles or when we stay seated for long periods of time. This shortening or tightness pulls the foot outward.If you focus on keeping your toes straight ahead, you’ll start to open these tight tissues and may reduce the strain on your lower back.
Make sure you bend the big toe.
As you bend the big toe and push off the ground, your glute muscles become more active. It puts the thigh into hip extension and allows the back side base muscles of the spine to work. It will help to lift your body upward and reduce the amount of leaning forward from the hip flexors doing all the work. The glute muscles are one of the strongest muscles of the body, yet many people do not use them for much more than sitting, which makes them inactive and weak.
Keep the chest lifted
Avoid rounding the body forward when you walk and keep the rib cage lifted. If you need to watch where you’re going, look with your eyes while keeping your chin lifted. This will help improve your posture.
Also keep in mind that walking can be done in all directions and will help develop more balanced strength patterns to improve stability and balance to prevent falling. Walking sideways, leading with either foot equally is great to hit the outer thigh and glute medius while walking backwards (be mindful for obstacles or going very slow on a treadmill with hands on rails) focuses on the hamstrings. Working the hamstring muscles will improve their flexibility, too.
Strive for 30 minutes of daily activity according to the American College of Sports Medicine or 150 minutes per week. Walking is the perfect activity and activity trackers can help you measure your distance or time. Walking 10,000 steps a day equals about five miles and it doesn’t matter if you do in a row or if you do in increments. Try adding a 10-minute walk before or after each meal. This easily adds up to 30 minutes.
Stretching daily is a good idea especially if you are walking for exercise. These simple stretches are ideal for walkers, runners or anyone who find themself sitting in a chair for more than a few hours a day.
4 Stretches for Walking
1) IT Band Stretch:
Start standing and cross right foot behind the left. Next lean over, reaching down past the side of the knee and aim your elbow up towards the ceiling. Hold this stretch for 10-30 seconds while breathing. Repeat on the other side.
2) Crossed Knee Stretch:
The hip rotators play a role with the back, stabilizing the pelvis. Start in a seated position and cross one knee over the other. Gently lean forward from the hips keeping back straight and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
3) Split Lunge Stretch:
Start in a split stance with back toe slightly turned inward and front knee bent. Lift arms upward and press hips forward by squeezing the glutes. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This helps open the hip flexors which become tight from many hours of sitting or overuse patterns common in runners or bikers.
4) Knee Balance Stretch:
Stand on one leg while bringing the heel up toward the backside of the body. You may hold onto a chair for support and to help maintain balance. Squeeze the hips forward to feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This helps open the quadriceps, a dominant frontal movement muscle group.
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and everyone can do it. Now is the time to do it better!
Andrea is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutritionist and Health Expert. She’s based in Chicago and has appeared on NBC Today Show, USA Today, Oprah.com, Reuters Health Report, More.com, Better TV and local Chicago stations. You can find her at www.andreametcalf.com.