When you're walking, one foot is always on the ground. Just that simple fact makes walking a low-impact exercise, and reduces the likelihood of the pounding injuries runners can experience.
But factor in the time spent on your feet and the hardness of the pavement, and you'll see why muscles, tendons and ligaments all can start aching because of overuse. To prevent injuries that can sideline your progress, assess your walking resources: shoes, surface, form and technique. Adjustments in each of these areas can keep you injury-free, and walking strong.
Shoes and surface
• Cardio walkers and runners alike need running shoes that are flexible and stable so body weight can move from heel to toe in a natural, rolling movement. Stiffness, tightness or a feeling of restriction will hamper a natural gait.
• Keep your running shoes fresh and rotate every other day.
• Check for worn areas that reveal an uneven foot strike, which puts the body out of natural alignment. Take your shoes to professionals at a running shoe store; they can tell quickly what kind of shoes can help your gait.
• At least once a week, do your workouts on soft ground, including a treadmill. Try to avoid concrete whenever possible.
• If the roadway where you walk slopes down for draining, change sides so you're not continually putting one foot down on the low side of the road.
How's your form?
• Get a professional gait analysis periodically to check out form. Most people can improve the efficiency of their walking or running movement.
• Continually review your own form: Shoulders should be held square, not hunching forward. Keep the pelvis tucked, the knees slightly bent, and aim for a stride span of 12 to 16 inches.
Strength and stretching
• Runners and walkers should work on strengthening the ankles with toe raises, because weak ankles can lead to the foot landing at an angle, increasing the risk of injury.
• Weight train major leg, core and arm muscle groups with light hand weights to increase range of motion, and with high repetitions to increase muscular strength. Strong muscles can protect you from overuse injuries in specific spots such as the Achilles tendon or hamstrings.
• Take a yoga or a flexibility class once a week, then choose a few moves from the class to practice each day. Muscle tightness results in poor posture, contributing to unequal distribution of weight on your legs, core and upper body. Stretches should be static (no bouncing) to avoid overstretching.
A few more tips
• Apply cold water to your legs after each cardio walking or running workout to decrease inflammation.
• Train up gradually; add only 10 percent to your mileage each week. If you are walking or running 10 miles per week, the next week go up to 11 miles. The mind may want more, but the body will eventually refuse.
• Use a special high-density foam roller, available in sporting goods stores, to smooth out your tight muscles. The weight of your body goes on top of the roller and can be used for major muscle groups such as the illotibial band, the calves, the quads, the back, etc.
• Hydrate before, during and after you train. Hydration allows the muscles to stay warm and the joints to move fluidly.
Lynn Gray is the founder of Take . . . The First Step in Tampa. Check out her website: www.FirstStepPrograms.com, e-mail her at [email protected], or call her at (813)453-7885.