To reap mega-benefits from your walking program you need top-notch technique, says Janice Burdon, a walking coach from Hudson, Que. “People often think that any kind of walking will do it,” says Burdon, who credits a serious walking program with helping her lose 50 post-pregnancy pounds. The truth is that sloppy style can hold you back if your goal is to tone your legs and hips, blast calories or boost your energy. Get the most from your workouts and take your walking to the next level by avoiding these four common walking mistakes.
Many walkers lean forward hunching their shoulders and therefore can’t breathe properly, says Burdon. Instead, look ahead instead of down, lift your chest and keep your shoulders down and back. This tall position also helps prevent back, neck and shoulder strain and portrays confidence, adds Burdon. Toronto power walker Marilyn Dalzell attributes her shorter marathon and half-marathon finish times to improved posture. “I imagine myself suspended by a cord from the top of my head,” she explains. “It lifts up my ribcage and makes me feel 50 pounds lighter!”
Taking steps that are too long is a common error, says Dalzell. “Big steps are less efficient, and your legs tire faster.” Smaller steps keep the legs more perpendicular to the ground, requiring less effort. They also help prevent overworked and painful shin muscles, a common problem for fast walkers with a stride that is too long. To test your step length, count the number of steps your right foot takes in one minute, and challenge yourself to gradually increase it. Experienced walkers aim for a number between 85 and 90.
New walkers are usually surprised to learn they should be using their toes, says Dalzell. Rolling through the foot and then pushing off strongly with the toes creates a dynamic power-drive and is the most effective way to increase your speed. To try it, imagine you’re pushing the sidewalk behind you as you walk. Or, think of consciously showing the entire soles of your shoes to the people behind you with each step. If you find pushing off too tiring, try it for short intervals until you can eventually incorporate it into the entire walk.
Some walkers simply walk too slowly to improve their fitness. Chatting with friends and losing focus is often the culprit, says Caren Donahoe, a walking coach from Burlington, Ont. “It takes a lot of concentration to perfect your technique.” To keep up your speed, try setting a heart rate monitor to sound when your heart rate dips too low. Take turns with your walking buddy being responsible for the pace or agree that certain parts of your route will be no-chat zones. Another solution is to join an organized walking group that provides a program with set distances and paces. For really serious training, use Donahoe’s approach that includes socializing in the training plan: “We take little breaks during our walks to talk, or we go out together for coffee afterward.”