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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (813) 453-7885.