Walking may be the perfect exercise: It's low-impact on joints and high-impact in results, burning as many calories on a per-mile basis as running (about 100 per mile for the average adult, although it obviously takes longer to cover that distance). It can be done anywhere at anytime by just about anyone and requires no great athletic skills or special equipment other than a decent pair of shoes. And despite its reputation as being one of the more leisurely forms of exercise, it can offer a great total body workout. Here's how to make it even better:
- Increase the pace, not the stride: Walking at a brisk 12- to 13-minute per mile pace (approximately 4.5 miles per hour) — achievable by most reasonably fit people — can substantially increase the aerobic benefits compared to walking at a pace of three miles per hour. Plus, you'll boost aerobic capacity faster than the slower 20-minute mile pace.
The secret: Take more steps per minute at your normal or a slightly shorter-than-normal stride, and don't increase your stride.
Problem: Many people take a bigger stride in an effort to cover more area in less time, but that only fatigues them more quickly.
Advice: Count of the steps you take in 60-second intervals and work to gradually increase that pace.
- Line yourself: You may notice that Olympic and other elite racewalkers swing their hips more than recreational or beginning fitness walkers. That's because their feet move in a straight line, as opposed to walking with their legs at shoulder-width — what's called "railroading" because they walk as though they were on rails of a train track.
Better: Walk as if you drew a line on the ground, your left and right foot would be in that line. This causes you to swing your hips a bit more, which propels your body forward to you can walk at a faster rate.
- Swing those arms — correctly: The correct arm position is really the hands-on key to a better walking workout, because it can actually propel the body forward, acting as something of a pendulum, and help you achieve a quicker and shorter stride. Arms should be bent at the elbow at an 85-degree angle and pumping close to the body from the lower breast bone to the back of the hips.
Mistake: Some folks throw off their stride by either walking with straight arms and elbows locked, or allowing their arms to "chicken-wing" outward.
Extra credit: By moving your arms more quickly, you may also be able to boost your heart rate for a better workout.