Walking Sense: Make the Most of Your Walking Workouts

By: Ann Knapp

It seems simple. You pull on a pair of tennis shoes and head outdoors. Everyone thinks they know what walking is and how to do it. Besides the amazing health benefits to walking, there can be more to walking besides putting one foot in front of the other. To make the most of your workout and reduce incidences of muscle and joint pain, consider these walking mistakes to avoid:

#1. Overstriding: Knowing the correct way to walking can improve your health and help you to walk faster and more smoothly. On the other hand, walking the wrong way will lead to wasted effort and even injury. As a walker, it's natural to try to walk faster and lengthen your stride with the forward foot. This method causes walkers to strike the ground hard with their feet, resulting in a clumsy gait, sore shins, and muscle fatigue.

The cure for overstriding comes as result of pushing with the back of the leg and foot. When walking fast, aim for shorter, quicker steps. Think of pushing off your foot with a rolling-through motion of your back foot and leg. The correct stride should be a lengthening of your stride, which will result in faster feet.

#2.Wrong Shoes: A good walking shoe is necessary to avoid injuries such as plantar fasciitis, muscle pulls and knee problems. Walking shoes should be lightweight with flexible soles that will allow you to easily roll through each step. Shoes should also be replaced every 500 miles (or every year), as the cushioning and support will degrade. Walking shoes should also be larger than your dress shoes if you walk more than 30 minutes or more for exercise. Athletic shoe store associates can help to size a right-fitting walking shoe for you.

#3. Flapping and Slapping Feet: It's a natural tendency to flatten your foot out prematurely while walking if you're not conscious of rolling through each step with your forward foot - from heel to toe. Heavy shoes or weak shins can contribute to the problem. Again, it's important to wear flexible shoes that bend at the ball of the feet and feature a low heel. To strengthen your shins, try toe raises by standing on a stair facing upstairs and let your heels hang over the edge. Dip the heels down and raise them up 10-20 times. Prior to your walking workout, warm up the heels by walking on them for 30 seconds.

#4. No Arms: Perhaps you've seen someone walking with their arms still at their sides, or even swinging them without bending. Besides looking strange, this method will lead to swelling in the hands. Normal walking motion requires the arms to move as a counterbalance to the legs. A walker adds power and speed when using the arms correctly. Make sure you bend your arms at a 90 degree angle and let them swing naturally back and forth, opposite the leg motion.

#5. Chicken Wing: This is Walking Workout 101, not the Chicken Dance. If you're swinging your arms from side to side, crossing the center of your body, you may be a Chicken Wing offender. Remember that your arms should swing back and forth and elbows should be close to your body. Hands should not cross the center line or come up past your breasts. A correct arm swing allows you to concentrate power from your rear leg rather than wasting motion in front of your body.

#6. Leaning: You find yourself leaning back or forward more than 5 degrees. Or perhaps you have a sway back. Maybe you thought leaning equals good form. Leaning forward or backward while walking can result in lower back pain and will inhibit your speed and technique.

The proper position for good walking is to stand up straight but relax the shoulders. Keep your chin up and parallel to the ground. Your stomach and behind should also be tucked in as you walk. To keep from swaying your back, make sure your stomach or backside are not pushed out forward or back. Stomach- and back-strengthening exercises are very beneficial for standing straighter.

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