As a walking coach, I spend much of my time helping walkers stay motivated and on track during the long months of training required for half-marathons and marathons. Over the years, I’ve discovered that it is little annoyances that present the biggest training hurdles for many walkers. Here are six annoying-but-not-serious walking nuisances that can slow you down, and how to resolve them.
1. Swollen fingers: Lots of walkers experience the fat-finger syndrome – a swelling of your digits as fluids pool in your hands when your circulation increases while walking. To deflate them, try one of these tricks at 15-minute intervals as you’re walking: make a fist, then open your fingers about 10 times; walk with your hands on your head for 30 seconds; or do ten big arm circles reaching your arms high overhead each time.
2. Stitches and cramps: Drinking too much fluid before or during a walk can cause a stitch in your side (sip rather than gulp as you drink). Shallow breathing can also be a culprit; focus on rhythmic full breaths – try a big exhale on every fourth step (the inhales will take care of themselves). When you get a stitch in your ribs, apply firm pressure with your fingers to try to release it, or stop and lean away from the stitch to stretch it out. Cramps (in your legs or elsewhere) are in part due to poor pacing, say researchers from the University of Cape Town. Their study showed that cramps develop when people start out too fast (and not as a result of loss of water and salt from sweating, as is commonly thought) and that they can be quickly relieved with stretching.
3. Tense shoulders: If your shoulders lift even just a bit as you walk, they’ll ache the next day. Be sure your arms swing freely from the shoulder like pendulums – don’t punch your fists forward. Visualize a heavy brick sitting each shoulder forcing it to stay down and away from your ear.
4. Sore shins: Your shin muscles can quickly tire when you pick up the pace or walk long distances. To avoid this try one of these strategies: Wear super-light walking or running shoes staying away from heavier tennis shoes and crosstrainers; start each workout slowly, and gradually pick up your pace; don’t pull your toes up too high as you step; and include a shin stretch in your warm up, cooldown and at intervals along your route.
5. Chafing: A sweat rash under your arms or between your upper thighs is surprisingly common. Minimize the chafing by choosing snug versus loose clothes (they can bunch between your legs and under your arms) and avoiding rough seams that can irritate your skin over time. Use petroleum jelly on problem areas or, even better, a product like BodyGlide which is non-sticky, non-staining and rolls on like deodorant.
6. Blisters: Blisters are hardly life threatening, but they can be painful. Avoid cotton and seamed socks, and be sure your shoes fit perfectly. Many walkers go up one-half to one-full shoe size to avoid blistered and painful toes. If you get a blister, protect it from further friction with a bandage. If it’s painful, sterilize both a needle and your skin, pop it to drain the fluid, then cover it with a bandage.
Barb Gormley is a certified personal trainer and a freelance health and fitness writer. You can contact her at her personal website.