Fitness Basics, Part 2: Walking Technique

walking-1There are some basics when it comes to fitness. Walking is among the simpler basics that one can do to get in shape.  I know what you’re thinking. Walking is a “no brainer,” just strap on some shoes and start walking. But not so fast – walking properly is just as important as walking.

Walking Technique

Your walking technique is an important to avoid injury, stiffness, or awkwardness.

When walking keep your head up, looking around you. Looking down can cause you to suffer needless neck strain.  The goal is to focus your eyes a dozen to about twenty feet front of you.  If you need to see something closer, lower your gaze, not your whole head.

Keep good posture, which is when your body weight is supported by your bones, ligaments and tendons, as well as your ankles, hips and shoulders are all aligned. When your body is out proper alignment even slightly, your muscles need work harder keeping you upright. How to do this is to align your posture, making sure your spine is long, tall and straight. But don’t just keep a good posture while walking – keep a good posture no matter what you’re doing, as it will make things easier when walking.

Engage your core, as the muscles that make up the core are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis, holding the spine erect and balanced and help move your legs. In order do so while standing, set your feet hip-width apart and parallel, relaxing your feet and knees. Next, stretch your spine, imagining a string attached to the top of your head is gently pulling it upwards. Level the pelvis to engage your core muscles, placing a hand on your belly, with the thumb at your naval and the fingers just above your pubic bone, activating them so that your pelvis tilts. Think of your pelvis as a bowl of water; lifting enough to keep the water from spilling out either the front or the back. If you’re unsure which muscles to use, think which muscles hurt when you laugh or cough.

Swing your arms freely with your elbows bent slightly. If you want to pump your arms a bit it’s OK. Keeping your arms straight when walking for long distances can lead to swelling, tingling, and numbness of the fingers or hands. Bending the arms will not only eradicate this problem, it will enhance your upper body strength and help to tone your deltoids, biceps and triceps. Furthermore, bending your arms, burn 5-10% more calories, which helps when trying to lose weight.

Bent arms should swing naturally and comfortably at waist level, with relaxed, loosely clenched hands. Don’t tense up, as it wastes energy.  As your arms swing, the elbows should be close to the torso, with the hands going no higher than mid chest going forward or past the back of the hip backwards; more than this wastes energy  When first starting out, initially your arms might get tired. Don’t give up. keep the arms in this motion for a few minutes, lowering them to recover; as soon as the arms are rested, resume the position.  As part of your training, you might consider doing some upper body weight work (not while you are walking) to increase your endurance.

Lower-body techniques are oftentimes the most difficult to achieve,  due to the hips inflexibility, which can be improved by stretching the hip flexors and lower back consistently. If you’re unused to this motion, you should take it slowly and practice; but doing so will be well worth it. If you stick with it, you’ll be able to move more efficiently.

Lower body walking techniques begins with the abs and hip flexors to rotate the hips forward, leading the leg in its motion.  As your leg moves forward and straightens, and the heel hits the ground, your ankle should be flexed,  toes pointed up at a 45 degree, the foot directly in front of the body, as if you’re walking a straight line.  As you bring your body over the leading leg, your foot should roll forward and push off from the toes to begin the next step, giving you more momentum and power.

A word of caution: It is counterproductive and may actually cause injury to try to increase your stride length by taking unnaturally longer steps.  Walking speed and efficiency are caused by hip flexibility and quicker, not longer, steps.

More on fitness basics: walking next time.

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