Walking comes naturally to humans. It’s one of the earliest skills we develop, long before we learn how to talk (or invent excuses to avoid walking). And given good, basic health, it’s something you can do throughout your life without worry about overdoing it.
So if you’re wondering whether walking is challenging enough to keep you fit, don’t. Fitness walking (as opposed to leisurely walking to do everyday tasks) can build endurance, strengthen your bones, improve your health profile and help you manage your weight.
And many people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off over time have made fitness walking the foundation of their fitness routines. But like anything else, the more walking you want do, the more important it becomes to do it right. By the time many of us get to adulthood, especially if via the sedentary route, we may have developed some postural quirks and bad habits that can make even simple walking a source of aches and pains.
So, here are some walking basics that will help keep your walking workouts safe and effective by building your walking technique from the ground up.
The 8 Keys to Proper Fitness Walking
And you thought walking was simple! There are a lot of things to keep in mind. This quick list summarizes the info above so you can get out there and put one foot in front of the other!
- Stand tall, with your shoulders back, head and neck aligned with your spine, and abs pulled in.
- Push off with the toes of your rear foot, and land squarely on the heel of your lead foot.
- Roll through the entire foot, from heel strike to the ball of your foot to the final push off with your toes, allowing your ankle to more through its full range of motion.
- Avoid over-striding. Increase the number of steps per minute to increase speed.
- Bend elbows at a right angle, and swing your arms from the shoulder, keeping elbows close to your sides.
- Avoid clenching hands or over-swinging your arms.
- Minimize leaning on hills.
- Don’t neglect stretching and strength training, especially if you experience burning or tightness in shins or calve muscles.
NOW, you know how to walk properly…let’s talk about running:
Do you know how to run?
It’s a simple question, and probably something you might not even think about. After all, what’s so tough about running, right? You put one foot in front of the other, repeat the process as quickly as possible, and BAM you’re running!
However, did you realize that running improperly, especially for long distances, can do some serious damage to your body while not even giving you the benefits you’d expect from putting in all of that effort? Not cool, I know. Running form is key to preventing injuries. If your foot/ankle starts hurting, it can start to affect you knees, hip, back and neck. As the song goes, “the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…”
Before you even THINK about strapping on a new pair of Nike shoes and going for a run around your neighborhood, we need to get a few things straight:
Your body needs to have a base-level of fitness before running becomes a viable option. Every time you run, every time you take a step, you put the pressure of your entire body weight on the muscles, tendons and joints in your legs, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. If you are overweight and have improper running form, that means your joints and tendons are taking an absolute POUNDING for however many steps you take during your run: around 6200 steps in a 5k, 12,200 steps in a 10k, or 50,000+ steps in a marathon.
Cross training is crucial to keeping you ready for longer runs. Your body doesn’t strengthen from running alone, making sure that you are strengthening and conditioning the correct muscles (hips, knees, quads, feet and ankles) will also keep injuries from occurring, therefore giving you the ability to run without pain. Here are some great cross training ideas:
- Hiking – my personal favorite: get out and see the world!
- Biking – easy on your joints, gets you moving.
- Swimming – very low impact as the water holds you up.
- Walking – go for a nice long walk around your town, and keep your head up. Enjoy the scenery. (We just learned about walking techniques!)
- Elliptical – although I’m not a fan of spending all afternoon in a gym on a treadmill, this is the better option as it removes the opportunity for joint impact.
Have you ever seriously thought about HOW you run?
You know, which part of your foot hits the ground first, at what angle your knee is bent (if at all) when you make contact, or how your posture is set up during your run, and so on.
If you’re like the hundreds of thousands of people that go running and get injured on a regular basis, probably not.
Fortunately, you’re a Nerd Fitness reader, which means you are incredibly intelligent, really ridiculously good looking, and modest. It also means that you DO pay attention to how you run.
Your running technique is the most important thing when it comes to running– no fancy pair of “running shoes” can fix that for you. In fact, did you know that expensive running shoes are probably more likely to cause injury than if you were to run barefoot? True story – expensive, fancy, cushioned shoes promote bad behavior.
When you run in cushioned shoes:
- Your ankles and arches get all of the support they need from the shoes, so your stabilizer muscles and tendons go unused and grow complacent – this is a recipe for disaster.
- Your tendency will be to run with your heel hitting the ground first (a heel strike, as they say), which means your leg is completely extended, which means that the impact of your step will send shockwaves through your ankle, knee, hips, lower back, and so on. Not good. Multiply this jarring impact by a few thousand steps every day, and you WILL get injured.
What this means is that it’s time to start running like you’re barefoot (whether or not you are will be up to you): take shorter strides, land on the balls of your feet with your knee already bent, and absorb the shock rather than transfer it through your body.
START SLOW. If you’re going to run with a new style, you have to control yourself and do it for only a little bit at a time. I’m talking mere minutes to start out. Slowly ease into it…too much + too soon = injury.
Try running up hills. I find running up hills is a fantastic way to improve your technique – when you sprint up a hill, you naturally have to take a shortened stride and land on/spring off the balls of your feet to get up it. This is the style you want!
Stay off the roads. Although I’m a big fan of barefoot running (or using minimalist shoes like Vibrams), it can be tough to do in a typical urban running environment: unforgiving concrete and asphalt can wreak havoc on your ankles and joints especially when you’re just starting out and strengthening your body. Instead, get off the roads and hit the trails in your woods or town!
Cool down properly – Whether you just finished sprinting, interval training, or closed out a big 28-mile run, it’s important to cool down properly – spend some time bringing your heart rate back down with a slower jog (while maintaining good form) or walk. After you do your cool down, it’s time to stretch, with a BIG emphasis on your calves – trust me on this one. I’m a big fan of this stretch and this stretch when it comes to getting your lower body stretched out, though you can also do things like this. What’s important is that you stretch what’s tight to minimize the soreness for the next training day.
Foam rolling is a great way to loosen the tightness, not only in your calves but also your quads when you use this foam rolling method: http://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/foam-rolling-moves-sore-muscles/
All these tips and tricks will keep your running form in top condition and in turn keep your injuries down to a minimum. If you are experiencing any pain in your foot or ankle, please give us a call at 901-221-2619. Our foot specialist can help you get back to running and doing what you love to do WITHOUT PAIN!
Sources: runnersworld.com, dailyburn.com, sparkpeople.com