Fix Common Walking Problems

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Walking is simple; you just put one foot in front of the other, right? Yes, and no. Step up your benefits by nixing these common style errors

How you plant your feet, swing your arms and hold your head can make or break your walking program. Flapping arms, giant steps and stomping feet are among the more common ‘moving violations’ that walkers make, says Ken Mattsson, a fitness- and race-walking coach. These errors slow you down and can set you up for injuries, such as shin splints. Here, Mattsson and other leading walking coaches ensure you won’t be limping home.

1. Walking Hazard: Slouching and slumping

“Many walkers get hurt because they don’t walk erect,” says race-walking coach Bonnie Stein. The two most common posture problems? Walking bent over with your head down or leaning back. Either way, straying too far from upright throws your body off balance, putting undue stress on your lower back, says Stein. The result? Strain and pain.

Quick Fix: Realign your spine

To straighten up, hold your head high, so your neck and spine form a straight line. Don’t tuck your chin into your neck; look well ahead of you. (Experts’ advice on the distance ranges from 3 to 9 m ahead.) Also, suck your stomach in, brace your core and relax your shoulders. One way to check yourself, says Stein, is to take a big breath every five minutes and exhale strongly. Notice how your shoulders drop? That’s where you want them to be when you walk.

2. Walking Hazard: Flapping your arms

Yes, your arms should swing when you walk, but if they’re swinging in and out, you’re sending energy sideways rather than propelling your body forwards, explains Mattsson. “Also, if you’re bringing your arms high up in front of you, you’re sending energy upwards rather than forwards.” This destabilises your body and slows you down.

Quick Fix: Keep your elbows close

Bend your arms at 90 degrees and hold your elbows close to your sides, so they drive back, not outwards, advises Stein. Envision a shelf projecting from your sternum and keep your hands from shooting above it, she adds.

3. Walking Hazard: Taking giant steps

Taking too long a stride actually slows you down, because extending a heel too far in front of your body generates no forward propulsion. And when you stretch your foot out in front of you, it acts like a brake; you can’t easily roll from heel to toe, as you should, to power the forward motion.

Quick Fix: Take a measured step

To determine just how long your stride should be, stand up straight and extend one foot a few centimeters in front of you, with your heel not quite touching the ground. Start to fall forwards slowly; your extended heel will hit the ground and stop you. That’s where your front foot should be with each step, says Stein

4. Walking Hazard: Stomping your feet

Listen to your footfall. Is it loud enough to wake the neighbours? You may be taking the phrase ‘pounding the pavement’ too literally! If so, you’re needlessly stressing your feet and legs.

Quick Fix: Lighten your landing

When you step forwards, your heel should touch the ground gently before your foot rolls forwards and allows you to push off from your toes. “Remember, too, that if you’re stomping, you’re not channeling enough energy forwards, so you’re interrupting your momentum,” Mattsson says.

5. Walking Hazard: Carrying hand weights

Contrary to popular belief, walking with hand weights doesn’t necessarily make for a more intense workout, says walking coach Marilyn Bach, PhD, co-author of ShapeWalking: Six Easy Steps to Your Best Body. Some studies show that walkers slow their pace when carrying hand weights, and you risk shoulder and forearm injuries by swinging them in an uncontrolled way.

Quick Fix: Pump weights elsewhere

Done properly, weight training strengthens your muscles, makes your walks more efficient and helps protect you from injury, but it’s best to lift weights at home or at the gym, says Bach. If you want to add extra weight while walking to boost kilojoule burn and build bone, the best and safest way is to carry a weighted backpack or wear a weighted vest.

 6. Walking Hazard: Skipping the warm-up

Sure, diving straight into your workout saves time, but you’ll pay sooner or later (cue ominous music), especially if you make a habit of it. Starting at a breakneck pace only increases the odds that you’ll fizzle out before you’ve covered much ground. It also leaves you sore and vulnerable to a whole host of injuries, says race-walking coach Jake Jacobson, author of Healthwalk to Fitness.

Quick Fix: Shift gears gradually

Spend the first five minutes of your walk in stroll mode, advises Jacobson. This increases blood flow to your leg muscles and warms them up, which is important for protection from injuries. Once you’re warmed up, slowly increase your pace.

7. Walking Hazard: Culling the cool down

Ditching the all-important cool down and skipping the stretching phase can leave you feeling temporarily faint and rob you of invaluable flexibility.

Quick Fix: Slow down to cool down

Spend the last five to 10 minutes of your walk back in stroll mode. “Any time you’ve walked vigorously enough to elevate your heart rate, it’s essential to let your body cool down gradually,” says Stein. If you stop suddenly, all of the extra blood that’s pumping into your leg muscles can pool there, leaving you feeling dizzy and overheated. Follow your cool down with some basic stretches, so your muscles don’t get stiff and tight, adds Bach.

SOURCCE: Prevention May 1, 2013


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