Power walking

Pump up your walks in three simple steps

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Simple walking is one of the easiest and most effective ways to step into a healthier lifestyle. But if your main goal is calorie burning or muscle toning, it may be time to try power walking.

Although power walking doesn’t involve the hip wiggling of Olympic race walking, it is distinctively different from leisure walking. “Power walking is done at a faster pace, and greater attention is paid to form and technique,” says Helen Battersby, a walking coach with JeansMarines, a marathon walking and running organization in Toronto.

Here are three quick steps to help transform an easygoing walk into a high-energy workout.

New power walkers often make the mistake of leaning forward from the waist or hips in an effort to move faster, notes Battersby. Instead, keep your shoulders back and down, and keep your eyes looking up to the horizon. This tall posture lets you pick up the pace without the risk of back or neck pain. Morag Mottram, a personal trainer in Banff, Alta., asks her clients to imagine there’s a string tied to the top of their heads pulling them up and lightening their steps.

The body moves forward only when you apply force to the ground. So lots of small, quick steps will propel you down the road. Smaller steps also keep the ankle, knee and hip joints safely aligned and well supported, helping you avoid sore shins and tired legs.

Battersby recommends the “one-minute test” to check improvement in your stepping pace. Here’s how to do it: once you’re warmed up, time yourself for one minute and count how many times your right foot touches down. Use that number as your benchmark and aim to increase it by five steps each week.

Build momentum by briskly pumping your arms forward and backwards at waist height. Avoid long, straight arms – a short pendulum swings faster. “Because your feet naturally move in sync with your arms, thinking ‘fast arms’ speeds up your feet by default,” says Battersby.

Keep a loose fist and your thumbs up. If your arms get tired or your fingers start to tingle, let your arms hang by your sides for a minute, then move them back into the proper position. Need more motivation to get your arms in action? Pumping your arms burns additional calories and helps tone your triceps and shoulders.

If you’re new to fast-paced walking, don’t do too much too soon, advises Anthony Conway, who teaches walking clinics at the Running Room in St. John’s, Nfld. To avoid aching muscles or injury, ease into it by starting with leisurely paced walks three times a week. “Start with 20 minutes, then increase the length of each walk by five to 10 per cent each week for several weeks before moving into power walking,” advises Conway.