Consultant in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders,
Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai.
Most of us can walk, but are we walking correctly? That is the question which we have to consider before starting on any walking exercise! In order to get the maximum benefit and avoid injuries to the body, certain precautions have to be taken.
Does the body have special needs before we start walking? Once there is no medical contra-indication to walking, the next step is to choose the proper dress. This too has been discussed in some detail, but briefly the clothes which you wear should be loose, comfortable and appropriate to the climate.
There seems to be some craze for wearing track suits during the exercise. These are usually made from impermeable materials and are totally unsuited for our climate, which in most places and at most times throughout the year is hot. They prevent heat loss from the body and also stop the sweat from evaporating. This could lead to a dangerous increase in the body temperature and in some severe cases, may even cause a heat shock. There is absolutely no need to spend any money on special clothes for the exercises. You should choose loose comfortable clothes (which allow the free circulation of air). After the exercise, especially if you feel chilly, cover your body with some insulating material such as fleece or wool. When the climate is cooler, you may want an insulating layer of polar fleece or wool.
Socks should be comfortable and although there are special socks available for walking exercises, cotton socks would do as well in most instances. One should try and avoid using a tight garter to keep the socks up as too tight a garter would compromise the blood flow to the skin in the feet and make them prone to cracks and injuries. If your feel are very dry, you should apply some vaseline or cold cream to the feet. If they are prone to sweat too much, powder the feet before putting on the socks.
A hat may help to preventing sun exposure or keeping you from losing heat depending on the outside temperature. Sunglasses for outdoor walking prevent UV exposure for your eyes. Your shoes are your chief walking tool.
Now come the real aspects of the correct way to walk!
Start out at a slow, easy pace for each walking session. Allow your muscles to warm up before you stretch, add speed or hills.
Warm up for 5 minutes at this easy pace.
Stretching will add flexibility and can make your walking more comfortable.
Warm up for 5 minutes at an easy walking pace before stretching, never stretch cold muscles or you risk tearing them. Incorporate mobility exercises designed to take a muscle and joint through its range of motion. You will start at the top of your body and work your way down.
Find an upright pole or fence or wall that will support you for leaning into on some stretches.
Stretches and Mobility Exercises for Walkers Head Circles: Make 1/4 circles with your head. Start with your ear near your shoulder on one site, rotate your head around to the front, ending with your ear near the shoulder on the other side. Roll your head back to the other side. Repeat 5-10 times. Arm Circles: With one arm at a time, make backwards arm circle with your palm facing out, thumb pointed up. Repeat 10-15 with each arm. Then make forward arm circles with palm facing in, thumb pointed down, repeat 10-15 times.
Stand up, take a half-step back with the right foot. Bend your left knee and shift your weight back to your right hip. While keeping the right leg straight, bend forward more and reach further down your right leg. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Switch sides.
Stand erect, holding onto a wall for support. Bend your knee behind you so that you can grasp your foot, holding your heel against your butt. Stand up straight and push your knee gently back as far as you can, the hand just keeps the heel in place. (For some, it is more comfortable to use the hand from the opposite side). Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch.
Stand an arm's-length from the wall/post. Lean into wall/post, bracing yourself with your arms. Place one leg forward with knee bent - this leg will have no weight put on it. Keep other leg back with knee straight and heel down. Keeping back straight, move hips toward wall until you feel a stretch. Hold 30 seconds. Relax.
Repeat with other leg.
From the calf stretch position, bend the back knee so that the angle is changed to stretch the Achilles tendon. Keep your heel down, hold 15-30 seconds. Then switch legs.
Leg Extensions: Facing the pole, hold on with both hands. Bending at the knee, bring one leg forward, then extend and swing that leg back and behind. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs. Be cautious of hyperextending your lower back.
Cross Over Leg Swings: Holding onto the pole or fence rail with both hands, face forward. Swing one leg in front of your body gradually swinging higher. Swing about 10-15 times with each leg. After stretching and mobility exercises, now you are ready to walk the main portion of your walk at your desired speed.
How you hold your body is very important to walking comfortably and easily. With good posture you will be able to breathe easier and you will avoid back pain.
Walking Technique - Arm Motion
Arm motion can lend power to your walking, burning 5-10% more calories and acting as a balance to your leg motion.
The walking step is a rolling motion.
Avoid overstriding - taking longer steps to increase speed. This is potentially harmful and is inefficient.
Take more, smaller steps rather than lengthening your stride.
Your stride should be longer behind your body, where your toe is pushing off, rather than out in front of your body.
Your forward leg has no power, while your back leg is what is driving you forward.
Getting the full power out of the push from the back leg as it rolls from heel to toe is the key to powerful, efficient walking.
Fast walkers train themselves to increase the number of steps they take per second and to get full use out of the back part of the stride.
For the final 5-10 minutes of your walk, finish with an easy walking pace.
At the end of your walk you may want to repeat the stretches you did after your warm-up.