Once you're comfortable walking about 4 miles at 15 to 20 minutes a mile, it's time for a new challenge. • Cardio walking is all about pace and movement. Arms pumping back and forth in a slingshot motion will move you forward faster and get your shoulders and waist moving, too. At the same time, you're revving up metabolism and developing stronger back and shoulder muscles. • Moving your feet faster raises heart rate and aerobic output, and adds to the calorie burn. • As in any other sport, the better your walking form, the better your body will move, and the longer you can keep going. Good technique and posture result in efficient, long-distance aerobic training. But first you need to take stock.
CAMERAS DON'T LIE
Start by having a friend make a brief video of you while walking down the block. Nothing fancy required — most digital cameras can make a basic video. Make sure you get the side view so you can assess your posture.
• Are your shoulders hunched over? Don't be surprised if you have a sore back and tight calves after you walk.
• Do you hold your shoulders up? You probably carry stress in your shoulders, and you might get neck pain and headaches, too. Make a mental note to pull those shoulders down away from your ears.
• Do you walk like a robot, with a stiff torso, neck, shoulders and legs? That's probably why you get tired pretty quickly and can't enjoy a relaxing walk.
• Finally, take a look at your arms. Are they hanging by your sides like weights and barely moving as you walk? If so, you're losing out on the forward momentum you'd gain by pumping your arms in unison with your walk.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
On your next training walk, focus on these practice techniques for a half-mile each; eventually, you'll be able to coordinate them all at the same time.
Posture: Hold your head in a neutral position, looking ahead to a point at least 15 to 20 feet in front of you. Visualize a string running along your spine and out of the top of your head, keeping your head floating directly above your spine, not thrown back or forward. Keep a slight arch in your lower back as you move.
Breathing: Practice relaxed, deep breathing to maximize the energy-giving oxygen going to every cell of your body. Become aware of your breathing rhythms as you walk at a slow pace, medium pace and fast pace.
Stride: Your gait should come to you naturally. Don't make giant steps or tiny steps. The forward motion of each foot should form a continuous line, from foot to hip to shoulder, for a smooth stride that's easy on your hip joints. Foot placement is straight ahead.
Arms: Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and pump your arms straight forward and back, being certain to brush the sides of your hips to check your alignment. Need an extra reminder? Put a safety pin just above each hip, making sure your arm brushes over it each time it moves forward. Practice this arm pump in front of a mirror with light weights.
Shoulders: Your shoulders should be held square, being careful not to hunch them inward. Again, keep the pelvis slightly tucked and a slight arch in the lower back to protect you from back strain.
Foot strike: Your heel strikes first and you move from heel to toe to get the "toe off" momentum. Wearing a cushioned, stability running shoe of medium weight will help accommodate this swift heel-to-toe movement.
Hip movement: Synchronize arm and hip movement. Allow your hips to rotate downward and forward as your leg reaches forward. This gives your muscles and joints in your arms and legs a total workout. Keep your knees relaxed with a slight bend.
CARDIO WALK BASICS
• Warm up slowly for the first half-mile.
• Stop and stretch your Achilles tendons, hamstrings, calves, quadriceps.
• Hydrate every 20 minutes or so. Wear a water belt if water is not readily available.
• For your final half-mile, relax with an easy pace.
• When you're finished, pour cool water on your legs (a garden hose works well), jump in a cool swimming pool or take a cool bath or shower to help prevent muscle inflammation and shin splints.
THE NEXT STEP
• Varying a slow speed of walking with a quicker cadence prevents overuse muscle injuries.
• Try carrying handheld weights of 1 pound or less while doing the workout for increased muscular development.
• Hill walking develops leg power and strength, plus the increased arm pumping helps with building upper body strength. No hills handy? Take the stairs whenever you can.
This week's plan calls for increasing your intensity from easy walk to cardio walk, and paying attention to form. Don't worry about adding distance or getting faster yet. See our first story at www.tampabay.com/health for more on how to decide your level, but in general, pay attention to your progress and how you feel to determine when you need to step it up. You should feel challenged and invigorated, not exhausted or in pain.
|Level||Intensity||Frequency per week||Distance||Approx. time||Weeks|
|1||cardio walk||4 days||2 miles||35 minutes plus 5 min. easy walk||1 to 3|
|2||cardio walk||4 days||3 miles||50 minutes plus 5 min. easy walk||1 to 3|
|3||cardio walk||4 days||3.5 miles||60 minutes plus 5 min. easy walk||1 to 3|
|4||cardio walk||4 days||4 miles||60-90 minutes plus 5 min. easy walk||1 to 3|