Despite having had a brief love affair with virtually every form of cardio exercise, I still remain attached to my one true love: walking. Once not even considered exercise in many gym circles, we now know it’s one of the best forms of movement out there. Here’s some reasons why it’s so good for you and some tips on how to do it right:
The benefits of walking:
– You can do it anywhere and at anytime.
– You don’t need special equipment for it (I have been known to slip out for a walk in the forest near the school wearing my clothes for clinic: a dress and ballerina flats, which I like to think is very French), just flat comfortable shoes.
– It can be done outside, mixing your daily exercise with nature cure.
– It can be done socially (with your dog, friends or family) or meditatively.
– It keeps your heart-rate at the perfect level for burning fat. Also, walking and running burn almost the same calories mile-for-mile (or kilometre-for-kilometre). Walk or run 10 km? The calorie consumption is pretty much the same (it will just take you longer, is all).
– You can do it forever.
– It’s calming and de-stressing.
– It requires the use of every muscle in the body and promotes lymphatic circulation and alignment when done right.
– It requires very little training and conditioning.
– It is low impact and easy on the body, again, when performed correctly.
– It helps strengthen your bones.
– It’s what we were born to do, all over the Savannah, spear in hand. There were no treadmills, cross-trainers and bicycles in the caveman days (although I do love a good bike ride).
And so on… In short I love walking because it achieves all of the benefits of hitting the gym but can be done outside, with loved ones, in my normal clothes and at any time. I don’t need to change my clothes and have a shower after, but I still feel the mood and circulation-stimulating effects of exercise when I go for a walk. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to explore your neighbourhood or connect with nature. It’s delicious.
How to walk:
One of my colleagues, Erica, has a special interest in alignment and pelvic floor health. Visit her blog for more wisdom on this not-often-explored topic. Through some of the articles she’s written and shared, I’ve embarked on my own research trail on how to walk in proper alignment. Walking in alignment allows you to receive the full muscle-strengthening benefits of the exercise while preventing injury to the body. After researching how to walk I took my newly-acquired stride out to the trails (wearing my dress and ballerina flats) for a work break. The stride felt easy, maybe a bit stiffer than the way I was used to walking, but it was effortless to motor along at a good pace. By the end of the walk, though, certain muscle groups like my glutes, lower abdominals and triceps felt that pleasant warmth of having been worked. While walking, I also passed a few speed walkers on the trail. When passing one, an elderly gentleman decked out in a full coolmax outfit and water bottle pack, he exclaimed, “How do you do it? You’re so fast and it looks so effortless!” So. Walking in alignment. It shows.
The feet: Start by lining up your feet. The outsides of the feet should be aligned, actually causing the legs to slightly rotate inwards. Keep your feet hip-width apart. In yoga speak, it’s often defined as wide enough so that you can fit two fists between your feet.
The ankles: wear flat, minimal footwear to strengthen your foot muscles and to keep the angle between your calves and feet 90 degrees. This prevents shin splints from tight calf muscles.
The legs: When walking, land on the heel (as you would if you weren’t wearing any shoes. Using minimal footwear helps you do this naturally. It hurts to land on your toes, or the middle of your foot when you’re not wearing super-cushy shoes) with a straight leg. This was one of the things that I most had to alter when trying my new stride. I often landed with a slightly bent knee, which causes the hips to rock, preventing the glutes from toning up properly. When moving forward, press back with your hamstrings.
The hips: Avoid rocking the hips when walking (that little hip-swivel used on the runway) by keeping feet hip-width apart and landing on a straight leg. This helps tone up that bum (something most runway models don’t have, right?), giving you the most bum for your buck.
The trunk: Keep your trunk upright, over your hips, ribs tucked in and twist from the waist while walking, toning those abdominal muscles.
The shoulders: Relax shoulders down, allowing them to rock naturally with the movement of your body. Melt away that workplace tension.
The arms: Let the arms swing loosely at your sides, elbows slightly bent, alternating your arm swing with your leg motion, which helps the torso to twist and aids balance. Keep the elbows back, the elbow creases forward and the thumbs in front of the body. You may have to externally rotate your arms to do this. Now, and this is very important, when swinging your arms, don’t forget the back swing, moving your elbows back, behind your body. This helps tone your triceps muscles and stimulate lymphatic flow of the upper arm, preventing the infamous “bingo wing”. For more information on this, read this article. Who knew you could tone your arms while walking? I didn’t.
The head and neck: Keep you ears over your shoulders, chin slightly tucked in, looking forward, not at the ground. For many people, this means bringing the head back a little bit.
Then, power on! Try to match your inhale and exhale to the beat of your feet, staying mindful of your posture and alignment. To track your progress, download a pedometer app for your smartphone.
Here is a video that brings everything together:
And here is an article from an alignment website, complete with images: How to Walk