The wonderful thing about walking for exercise is there’s no barrier to entry — it’s free, you can do it almost anywhere, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. From improved cardio endurance to a better mood, it’s one of the easiest exercises you can do to support your overall health.
Whether you have regularly been walking long distances or are just getting started, here are a few form tips to keep in mind while you walk that can help you make the most of your steps so you can continue your healthy walking habit for a lifetime.
INCLUDE A DYNAMIC WARMUP
Mobility is key for securing a full range of motion with each step, so sprinkle in some simple ankle and foot exercises (such as toe raises, heel raises and ankle push outs) before you begin walking. Then, when you start your walk, be sure to spend about 3–5 minutes gradually increasing your stride speed and intensity in order to properly warm up.
Pro tip: Dedicate 3–5 minutes of dynamic, mobility exercises at least once a week prior to starting your walk session.
PRACTICE PROPER POSTURE
Good posture is important throughout your day since it aids digestion, allows you to breathe more deeply and minimizes joint strain. It’s also crucial when walking to prevent injuries. A rounded, forward slumped posture, for example, can add stress to your joints, cause back pain and may even cause breathing issues and fatigue while you are walking.
For proper walking posture, start with your head and work your way down to your feet (these four posture checks can help). Keep your head centered over your body (avoid jutting your chin forward, which can cause neck issues), push your shoulders slightly back so your chest remains open, keep your spine tall and your pelvis under your shoulders (avoid overarching your lower back or tucking your pelvis).
You may also want to practice engaging your deep abdominal muscles slightly to add additional support to your spine at times as well. Concentrate on bracing your belly toward your back (without affecting your breathing or your spinal or pelvic alignment) for several brief periods during your walk.
Pro tip: Focus on posture during one endurance walk per week. (It’s harder to focus on your alignment when you are doing more intensive intervals, uphill or power walks.) As it becomes easier and more natural to you, you can incorporate proper posture into all of your walks.
STRENGTHEN YOUR STRIDE
A smooth, soft stride with a heel-to-toe stepping action is the most efficient way to walk. Avoid taking too wide a step, and remember increasing your speed or incline too quickly can lead to issues with your shins or other aches and pains in the body, so be sure to progress your walking plan gradually.
Pro tip: During another walk this week, try intervals of focused stride work. Walk as you normally would for 3–5 minutes, then spend 1–2 minutes really tuned into your stride. As it becomes more natural, work your way up to spending a longer time maintaining a heel-to-toe, smooth, soft stride until you are walking the entire time this way.
ACTIVATE WITH ARM SWINGS
Maintain a natural bend in your elbows and allow your arms to swing in opposition to your stepping foot, keeping a natural rhythm while you walk. While you want your arms to move front and back, avoid over exaggerating your swing as it may begin to negatively impact your posture.
Pro tip: Use arm swings to power up your pace during an interval walk. Take the opportunity to really focus your arm swing pattern each time you increase your speed during the more intensive interval period.
CROSS-TRAIN WITH UPHILL INTERVALS
Your body naturally needs to shift in order to help you power uphill. Shorten your stride and focus on pushing down through your glutes to assist your thighs as you step up the incline. Avoid straining your back by leaning only slightly forward, keeping your shoulders back and chest open, powering up with your arms while trying not to overly round or arch your back. Find a slow, but steady, rhythm to your step as you climb.
Pro tip: Adding in more uphill work to your regular walking routine is an excellent way to increase your intensity without having to always rely on adding speed or duration. Try to add an incline interval walk one day a week (or on alternate weeks) to introduce a new challenge. If you don’t have hills available to you outdoors, play with the incline on a treadmill.
INCORPORATE REGULAR FOOT WORK
If you plan to walk regularly for your workouts, it’s important to keep your feet in walking shape. Try any (or all) of these exercises before or after a walk, or on your off days, to stay injury-free and make the most of your walking time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Remember, these are meant to be tools and tips to help you make the most of your walks, but if you find yourself too focused on your form, it can take away from the enjoyment. Do your best to stay in tune with your body and your alignment while also appreciating the walk itself — having fun while exercising is the number 1 goal so you can stick with it long term.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.