07 Apr 2017
While walking is a sport for some, for most of us it is simply a mode of transportation used to get us relatively short distances. Walking, however, can be more than just a form of transport. If you get your heart rate up while you walk then it is an excellent form of exercise that can be used to remain active, keep fit, and keep your weight in check.
Walking as an exercise (fitness walking) can be done outdoors, on an indoor track, or on a treadmill in the comfort of your own home or gym. Many people even walk for exercise indoors at their local shopping centre if the weather is too inclement to head out. Both indoor and outdoor walking can be excellent forms of fitness and can be modified in order to give you the type of workout you desire.
Walking at any pace provides great rewards for your health including benefits for your joints and muscles, as well as your heart, lungs, bowels, and brain. Even walking at a strolling pace can benefit the body, but by increasing your pace to a level where you get your heart rate up you can truly give your body a good workout. Once you start increasing your pace and using your walk as a form of fitness, there are things you should keep in mind in order to walk efficiently, and to avoid injury.
Move your arms
Most people think of walking as being done only by the legs, but your arms play a very important part in your fitness walking technique. Moving your arms deliberately as you walk will get your upper body involved in the activity and increase your heart rate quicker. Your elbows should be bent to nearly a right angle and this angle should be roughly maintained as your arms move forward and back. A common mistake is to bend and straighten the elbows as you move your arms; this motion puts significant stress on your shoulder joints and can quickly cause shoulder pain and injury. Your arms should move alongside of your body in a forward and backward motion; be careful not to swing your arms across your body as this decreases the efficiency of the arm swing and works against the energy that propels your body forward. Swing your arm in a relaxed manner. Keep in mind that your legs move at the same rhythm of your arms, so by increasing your arm’s swing movements, it will also increase the movement of your legs. This is an easy way to increase both your speed and the distance you can cover in the time you have; keep your arms going!
Keep your hands relaxed. If you are using walking poles, keep a firm but not tensed grip on the pole handles. In addition to keeping your hands relaxed, work to keep your shoulders from rising up towards your ears. Rather, keep your shoulders back and in a slightly downward position while keeping your chest up. Ensure you also keep your head up and look where you are going; aim to look approximately 10-15 stride lengths ahead of you.
Step it forward
As you step, place your foot lightly down (rather than slapping it down) and ensure your foot touches down with a heel-then-toe fashion. If you want to increase your speed, don’t over stride your steps, just increase the cadence. As you roll off your foot, consciously push off with your toes in order to propel your body forward.
Walking uphill can increase the intensity of your workout. When walking uphill, ensure to shorten your stride and lean slightly forward; take a lot of tiny steps to propel up the hill rather than fewer large steps. In order to assist you in propelling yourself up the gradient, ensure you don’t remain only on your toes. Fully plant your foot up the gradient then straighten your knee. This technique uses your strong thigh and buttocks muscles to propel your body up the hill. Be sure to take care on the downward descent; many injuries are initiated due to the strain of coming down a gradient. The force exerted through your joints and muscles is much greater when you descend than when you ascend a gradient. If you have poles, be sure to use them as you descend in particular (in addition to when you ascend) in order to absorb some of the force as well as to maintain your balance and avoid a fall.
Lastly, stay hydrated. Remember that walking is still exercise and it depletes your fluid stores. The amount you need to drink really depends on how vigorous your walking effort is. You need to drink more if you are working up a significant sweat or the weather is hot. If you start to feel thirsty then you have waited too long to drink! Take a sip every 10 minutes to stay hydrated.