Perhaps the best thing about walking is that you are already an expert at it. You probably acquired your walking skills quite some time ago. In this chapter, however, we'll show you how to develop a walking style and turn your walking skills into an exercise tool that can tune up your body and improve your health.
The programs we've developed allow you to start your walking program slowly and progress without strain, no matter what shape you're in. The programs are demanding enough to help you improve your fitness, but flexible enough for you to adapt them to your individual abilities and your daily routines.
You can use them to prepare for a lifetime of freestyle walking or as a start-up step to get your body in gear for racewalking or hiking.
The "secret" to walking comfortably is to walk naturally -- pretty much as you've been walking up to now. Don't be too concerned with proper walking style for these freestyle walking programs. Remember, your body is unique. It has its own particular form and style, so you can't force it to behave like someone else's body. Just walk naturally and enjoy yourself.
It is a good idea, however, to keep your spine straight and to hold your head high as you walk. You can walk into trouble -- in the form of cars, trees, and other people -- if you stare at the ground. Try not to be so conscious of your posture that you feel unnatural, though. Forget the ramrod-straight posture encouraged in the military, where the chest is thrown out and the back hyperextended. This posture doesn't allow your back and hips to move to accommodate the natural shift of your weight from one leg to the other.
Instead, keep your wrists, hips, knees, and ankles relaxed. Allow your arms to hang loosely at your sides. They will swing naturally in opposite action to your legs--the left arm sweeping forward as the right leg strides ahead, and vice versa. (Racewalkers use a unique form that helps them to walk at high speeds.)
As you walk, each foot should strike the ground at the heel. You then transfer your weight forward from your heel, along the outer portion of your foot, to your toes. To complete the foot-strike pattern, you push off with your toes. As you shift your weight from heel to toe, you should get a rolling motion. Avoid landing flat-footed or on the balls of your feet. If you do, you may be headed for leg and foot problems later on.
As you begin your walking program, don't worry about the length of your stride. Just do whatever is comfortable. As you increase your speed, your stride length will increase as well.
Breathe naturally as you walk, using both your nose and your mouth. Remember that the faster you go, the more air you'll need. So help yourself to all the air you want.
Don't follow these guidelines slavishly. It's likely that the way you walk now is best for you. However, if you do experience any pain or discomfort while you walk, you may need to make an adjustment in your walking technique or switch to a different pair of walking shoes. If you have further questions, see your doctor. Remember, you're not competing in the Olympics. You're walking for fun and fitness.
Now that you've learned about walking style, you're ready to put that information to use with our Basic Starter Program, which is detailed in the next section.
To learn more about walking, see: