Walking is great exercise. It burns calories, strengthens muscles and bones, improves balance, boosts mood and helps prevent health problems ranging from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes. But walking is about more than putting one foot in front of the other.
To reap all of the health benefits — and avoid injuries — it’s important to avoid making these four common walking mistakes:
1. SKIPPING THE WARMUP
Warmups aren’t just for marathoners and professional athletes. In fact, Kathy Kaehler, author, celebrity trainer and host of the “Fit and Sexy For Life” podcast, believes the more often you skip the warmup, the more likely you are to get injured.
For a proper warmup, Kaehler suggests walking at a comfortable pace for five minutes and then stopping to stretch all the major muscle groups from head to toe, including shoulder rolls, side stretches, hip circles, quad stretches and ankle rotations. Once your muscles are warm and stretched, proceed with your walk.
2. WALKING THE SAME ROUTE AT THE SAME SPEED
It’s OK to have a favorite walking route and a comfortable pace, but refusing to change things up could be bad for your body. “You want variation of terrain so your body can also have different muscular reactions and challenges with varied routes, inclines and steps,” says Ashley Borden, Los Angeles-based master trainer whose celebrity clients have included Reese Witherspoon and Mandy Moore.
To mix it up, Borden suggests incorporating intervals into your walk, switching speeds every block. A few times per week, try a different route. Adding variety to your workout will prevent burnout and keep you from hitting a plateau.
3. GOING TOO HARD, TOO SOON
When you start a new workout, even if it’s “only” a walk, it’s important to ease into it. “Your muscles need to be developed and strengthened for flexibility and endurance and that doesn’t happen the first week out,” says Kaehler. “You need to focus on progression rather than going all out right away.”
Doing too much too soon can leave you with sore muscles and, potentially, injuries. Instead, work up to faster speeds and longer distances.
4. IGNORING YOUR POSTURE
Taking pounding steps while staring at the ground might get you from point A to point B but poor walking posture takes its toll on your body. “Posture is so critical,” Kaehler says. “When your form is bad, you’ve got muscles doing jobs they are not qualified for and, over time, that creates muscle imbalance that leads to injuries.”
For the best walking posture, Borden suggests imagining a string lifting you from your breastbone toward the sky to keep the hunch out of your back; keep your eyes on the horizon, engage your glutes and abdominals and pump your arms.
Walking is a safe and effective workout if you take the time to prepare and avoid making these common mistakes.