I have spent every spring since seventh grade involved in track and field, well over 50 years — a life of studying forward movement through running, teaching, clinics, clinician and graduate study — a lifetime study of coaching.
We are all aware of the benefits of forward movement including heart strength, muscle strength, chronic disease control, and blood pressure and weight control. Some people with disabilities cannot walk but movement of any sort is beneficial. For most people, walking can be accomplished safely during a pandemic. It can be done almost anywhere. You can listen to music, you can walk safely with friends or it can be a great way to mediate quietly.
It isn't running. One foot is always touching the ground and almost everyone at almost any fitness level can benefit from starting a walking regimen. Most of us already walk quite a few steps daily, so here are some things to consider to make the most of them.
Walking with improper technique radically reduces the effectiveness of your time and can cause other problems. Good walking includes staying upright, arms just slightly crossing in front of you, hands no further back than hips on the downward swing, not swinging the body from side to side. Lift your heels a little bit higher than you usually do (think about stepping higher than the opposite ankle sometimes) for a nice, full-body movement.
Walking at a brisk pace has more benefit than walking slower but there are still benefits either way. The idea is stick with it, setting realistic goals. Try 10,000 steps a day or maybe 45 minutes as a standard goal. Can you do three 15 minutes walks instead of one 45-minute walk? You can but the aerobic (steady higher heartbeat benefits) will not be as strong.
Older people often shuffle along with short strides and lots of arm movement. This is often due to a life of using primarily the calf and quadriceps when walking. The hamstrings lose strength as they are underutilized. Concentrate sometimes on the hamstrings to keep things in balance. One trick is pinching your glutes. Concentrating on pinching the cheeks will show you the difference in the muscles used. Hamstring extensions are, of course, a great supplement, too.
I could sometimes pick a potential track athlete out on campus by observing them walking in the halls. Toe walkers, bouncing off the balls of their feet, are exercising all day long. I would approach a kid like that and talk about events such as long jump or high jump. Think about using your toes a little more for calf strength. Think about walking on the moon, with a little spring.
Another thing I believe in is uphill running and walking. Some experts caution against it but I have never understood why. It is easier on the shins, it's harder work and more aerobic. If you come downhill softly (almost like you are sneaking up on someone) it will protect your knees and shins. Running or walking uphill efficiently means that you keep your body parallel to the ground and barely lean into the hill. When you lean in, you compromise form and rely on the back instead of the hips and legs. Also, when on the hills, make sure you do some backward walking, pulling yourself up the hill with the hamstrings, not the quads or calves. Try to reach way back with your steps and pull. It's great exercise and you will feel it. Remember, no noise on the downhill.
Throw in some power walking now and then, faster than comfortable. Power walking is like race walking, using your entire body and arms to move you forward. It is hard but different from running. If you have ever seen a walking race it looks silly but is a great overall body exercise. This does require some twisting but the movement is forward. And again, one foot always touches the ground.
When walking for exercise, time the walk in minutes instead of worrying about mileage. It's easier psychologically. An example routine would be 15 minutes the first day, then 20 and 25. Then drop back to 20 minutes again, then 25, then 30. Keep this routine until you reach your time goal, say 45 minutes.
Here's a good beginning recipe for a walking routine:
Just start walking in a good pair of shoes concentrating on form.
Add minutes moderately.
Toss in a generous amount of hills.
Heat it up occasionally with race walking.
One part extra bounce.
Maybe adding some lunges or a little running for some extra spice.
Add a pinch of cheeks.
Rod Kausen (he/him) is a retired teacher and coach.