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Cardio walk puts best foot forward

For the past 10 weeks in this column, we've been talking about cardio walking, what it is, how to do it, and most important, why to do it. Now it's time to put your cardio walking fitness plan all together into an overall program you can enjoy for months and years to come. I coach both runners and walkers, and have done both myself for years. But I've made cardio walking the centerpiece, because it's an activity that offers considerable challenge, but can be accomplished without injuries that could set you back. What's essential both for improvement and to avoid damage is a smart schedule, and a careful plan to develop your muscles and cardiovascular capacity.

Bottom line: Cardio walking can get you into the best shape of your life, delivering benefits that will keep motivating you to seek even greater challenges.

So, let's get moving:

Step 1: Pull out your calendar and find an hour on five days of the week that you can devote to your program. The other two days, you rest, and that's just as critical as the five days you work out.

Step 2: Recognize that walking alone won't strengthen your muscles enough for you to achieve optimal fitness and become a truly proficient cardio walker. You'll need extra moves to build up your hamstrings, ankles, quadriceps, core, back muscles and arms. Strong muscles prevent injury by holding your body in proper alignment as you move. That's especially critical as you build speed into your cardio walking. Bonus: You'll build bone density, too.

Step 3: Stride right: As you improve, you'll need to take longer strides to make your gait as efficient as it can be. That comes from supple, well-stretched muscles. Stretching also can help prevent overuse injuries such as shin splints or bursitis.

Step 4: Watch your form: Correct posture, forward arm movement and heel-first foot strike all help eliminate wasteful movements during the walk.

Step 5: Set your goal: Generally, you have four goals in your fitness plan: duration, frequency, resistance and intensity. Specifically, mark two goals on your calendar. Decide what you want to accomplish in one month, then look ahead to three months.

You're the boss. Weight loss, distance, speed — you decide what's important. Need more guidance? Here's how my students generally progress:

First month: Build distance and frequency. See the chart for a plan that has you getting faster each week. Whatever your starting point, every week you should aim to add 10 percent to your time or distance. If the body seems overtired, then adjust.

Second month: Include resistance work to increase leg strength and gait efficiency. Pick one day per week and do a workout on hills (a well-lit parking garage is a good Florida substitute), StairMaster or elliptical trainer. Another day, speed up your walk for greater aerobic intensity. You might cardio walk in one direction, then turn around and come home, but a few minutes faster.

Third month. Have fun! Find a distance event and bring a friend, or make a friend once you get there. If it's a shorter distance like a 5K, aim for a faster pace.

Lynn Gray is the founder of Take . . . the First Step in Tampa. Check out her website at www.firststepprograms.com, e-mail her at lgray88@yahoo.com or call her at (813) 453-7885.

Walk with a purpose

Here's a suggested one-month fitness plan of cardio walking, focusing on increasing speed (and intensity). Before each walk, warm up with an easy, 5-minute walk, and spend about 15 minutes on strengthening moves. After the walk, stretch for 5 or 10 minutes. Your goal is a 60-minute workout.

On your cross-training days, try another activity you enjoy, such as bicycling, swimming, taking an aerobics or dance class, or using an elliptical machine. If you've been sedentary, get your doctor's approval first.

Week One (Goal: Walk a mile in 17 to 20 minutes.)

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Cardio walk 5 minutes, easy walk 2 minutes; repeat sequence three times.

Wednesday: Cross train

Thursday: Same as Tuesday

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Same as Tuesday

Sunday: Cardio walk 10 minutes, easy walk 2 minutes; repeat sequence three times.

Week 2 (Goal: Walk a mile in 16 to 18 minutes.)

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Cardio walk 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes; repeat 3 times.

Wednesday: Cross train

Thursday: Same as Tuesday

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Same as Tuesday

Sunday: Cardio walk 15 minutes, easy walk 1 minute; repeat 3 times.

Week 3 (Goal: Walk a mile in 15 to 17 minutes.)

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Cardio walk 8 minutes, easy walk 1 minute; repeat twice

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Cardio walk 12 minutes, easy walk 1 minute; repeat twice

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Same as Thursday

Sunday: Cardio walk 30 minutes nonstop.

Week 4 (Goal: Walk a mile in 14 to 16 minutes)

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Cardio walk 12 minutes, easy walk 1 minute; repeat 3 times

Wednesday: Cross train

Thursday: Same as Tuesday

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Same as Tuesday

Sunday: Cardio walk 45 minutes nonstop.

For earlier parts of this series, go to www.tampabay.com/health.

Starting Dec. 4, Lynn Gray will launch a 12-week clinic to help you get ready for a half-marathon, such as Gasparilla in Tampa, or the Disney Princess. The clinic is at 7:30 a.m. at Take . . . the First Step, 4526 W Village Drive, Tampa. Call (813) 453-7885 to reserve a spot.

Cardio walk puts best foot forward 11/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 3:30am]

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