There are several stretches and techniques that will improve the benefits of exercise walking, as well as help prevent injury.
Stretching before Walking
Prior to exercise walking, gentle stretching should be done to prepare the joints and muscles for the increased range of motion needed. It is important to take an easy five minute walk to warm up the muscles before stretching so they're not completely cold when stretching.
Discuss with a healthcare practitioner the best way to do stretches, and be sure to include the neck, arms, hips, upper and lower leg muscles (including the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh), and ankles.
Techniques for Exercise Walking
Using the following techniques will help improve the benefits of walking:
- Walk briskly, but as a general rule maintain enough breath to be able to carry on a conversation.
- Start out with a 5 minute walk and work up to walking for at least 30 minutes (roughly 2 miles) at least 3 to 4 times a week.
- Maintain good form while walking to get the optimum aerobic benefit with each step and help protect the back and avoid injury. These elements of form should be followed:
- Head and shoulders: Keep the head up and centered between the shoulders, with eyes focused straight ahead at the horizon. Keep the shoulders relaxed but straight - avoid slouching forward.
- Abdominal muscles: It is important to actively use the abdominal muscles to help support the trunk of the body and the spine. To do this, keep the stomach pulled in slightly and stand fully upright. Avoid leaning forward as you walk.
- Hips: The majority of the forward motion should start with the hips. Each stride should feel natural - not too long or too short. Most people make the mistake of trying to take too long of stride.
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- Arms and hands: Arms should stay close to the body, with elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. While walking, the arms should keep in motion, swinging front to back in pace with the stride of the opposite leg. Remember to keep hands relaxed, lightly cupped with the palms inward and thumbs on top. Avoid clenching the hands or making tight fists.
- Feet: With each step, land gently on the heel and midfoot, rolling smoothly to push off with the toes. Be mindful about using the balls of the feet and toes to push forward with each step.
Using a Treadmill for Exercise Walking
When using a treadmill for walking exercise, all of the above guidelines are still important, with the additional caution to avoid using the handrails as much as possible (unless they are needed to keep balanced).