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Approximately 70-million people in the United States are now committed to a walking program.

Although walking has been considered a serious entry in the aerobic activities field for only a few years, it has walked away with the top spot as Americans' exercise of choice.

Study after study shows us that moderate to brisk walking, in addition to increasing aerobic fitness, lowers the risk for heart disease, reduces body fat, increases bone density and gives a great psychological boost to general well-being.

You can select your pattern of walking from three walking styles.

The slowest of the three styles is "strolling," taking 16 to 30 minutes to walk a mile. This style is appropriate for the excessively overweight, the recovering cardiac patient, people with arthritis and the unconditioned person who is just beginning his or her trek into fitness.

The next step up the fitness ladder to improve aerobic fitness and for caloric expenditure is brisk walking. At this level, you walk a 13- to 15-minute mile.

Race walking is the third style, and it is for the highly conditioned walker. This type of walking employs a very stylized technique that covers a mile in 12 minutes or less.

No matter your walking style, warm-up and stretching exercises are recommended.

Calf Stretch

In a standing position, place your hands on a solid support. Bending one leg, place the foot on the floor in front of you, knee over the ankle. Extend the opposite leg straight behind you, foot pointed forward and heel on the floor. Do not bounce. Hold the stretch for as long as it feels good, then stretch the opposite leg. Repeat stretches at least two times for each leg.

Calf Strengthener

Holding onto a support, stand tall with legs straight. Wrap one leg around the opposite ankle, then raise and lower your heel 1/2 to 1 inch off the floor. If this is too difficult, stand on both legs and raise and lower heels together. Build up to eight repetitions per leg, 16 total.

Front Of Leg Stretch (Shin)

Holding onto a support, extend one leg behind you, both legs slightly bent. Have the toes of the extended back leg turned under. Hold for several seconds and repeat with opposite leg. Stretch each leg several times.

Shin Strengthener

Placing hands on a support, slightly bend into the back leg. With the front leg bent and foot flat on the floor, raise and lower the toes. Increase to eight repetitions for each leg.

Tips

1. Always begin your walk with a warm-up walk, about five minutes of slow walking followed by some stretching.

2. Do not continue walking if you are experiencing pain; the injury will most likely become more severe. Consult with your physician.

3. The most common walking complaint is pain in the shin area, especially for fast walkers. To prevent this pain, begin walking at a slow entry level, perform the shin stretches and strengtheners, and wear proper footwear.

4. Buy shoes specifically for walking. A walking shoe doesn't have to absorb as much impact as a running shoe, so should have a slightly lower heel.

5. Throughout all the walking techniques, hold your head up, chin parallel to the ground. Shoulders should be down and back not rounded.

6. Abdominal muscles should be contracted and the buttocks tucked under the hips. This helps maintain a proper alignment for the spine.

7. Race walkers have a slight forward lean from the ankles.

8. Before beginning to race walk, learn the specific techniques.

Text: Sally Anderson

Model: Carol Bristol

Photos: Bill Serne

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