Walk Correctly

Do you really know how to Walk!

Dr. S.M.Sadikot,
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.

Wanderfast 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.

  • Fit: Your shoes must fit well, but leave enough room so your feet can expand while walking. Your walking shoes should be a size to a size and a half larger than your dress shoe.
  • Flex: Good walking shoes are flexible, as your foot rolls through each step. See if your shoe bends in the ball of the foot and if you can twist it from side to side. If it is stiff as a board, you need different shoes.
  • Flat: Walking shoes should be flat, with little difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot.
  • A well-fit pair of running shoes is the best answer for most walkers. Many speciality walking shoes are too stiff and do not incorporate performance characteristics of today's running shoes to prevent overpronation.
  • Replace your shoes every 500 miles.

Now come the real aspects of the correct way to walk!

Cat Walking

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.

Hip Stretch

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.

Hip Stretch

Quadiceps Stretch

Quadiceps Stretch

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.

Calf Stretch

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.

Calf Stretch

Achilles Stretch

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 to Walk - Posture

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.

  • Stand up straight.
  • Think of being a tall and straight, do not arch your back.
  • Do not lean forward or lean back. Leaning puts strain on the back muscles.
  • Eyes forward, not looking down but rather 20 feet ahead.
  • Chin up (parallel to the ground). This reduces strain on neck and back.
  • Shrug once and let your shoulders fall and relax, your shoulders slightly back.
  • Suck in your stomach.
  • Tuck in your behind - rotate your hip forward slightly. This will keep you from arching your back.

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.

  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees.
  • Hands should be loose in a partially closed curl, never clenched.
  • Clenching your fists can raise your blood pressure and should be avoided.
  • With each step, the arm opposite your forward foot goes straight back.
  • As the foot goes back, the opposite arm comes straight forward, not diagonally.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body - don't "chicken wing."
  • Your forward hand should not cross the center point of your body.
  • Your hand when coming forward should be kept low, not higher than your breastbone.
  • Many poor examples of arm motion are seen with walkers pumping their arms up high in the air, this does not help propel you.
  • If at first you find adding arm motion tiring, do it for 5 to 10 minutes at a time and then let your arms rest.

How to Walk - Taking a Step

The walking step is a rolling motion.

  • Strike the ground first with your heel.
  • Roll through the step from heel to toe.
  • Push off with your toe.
  • Bring the back leg forward to strike again with the heel.
  • Flexible shoes will ensure you are able to roll through the step.
  • If your feet are slapping down rather than rolling through, your shoes are likely too stiff.
  • At first, your shin muscles may tire and be sore until they are strengthened.
How to Walk
Strike with heel. Back foot rolls through to push off.
How to Walk
Front foot continues to roll through step as back foot comes forward. Front foot strikes with heel and here we go again!
How to Walk

How to Walk - Avoid Overstriding

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.

Below: The stick walker on the left is overstriding, on the right is better.

Avoid Overstriding

How to Walk - Cooling Down

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.