I am a member of several online running forums and every few days someone will post:
“I’m new to running, what is a good pace?”
“I just ran my first 5K in X amount time. Is that a good pace?”
These questions come up a lot and I cringe every time. Why? Because whatever pace works for you is, by definition, “a good pace”. I often say that running, walking and hiking are all the same sport done at different speeds on different terrain. There is no magical pace which defines you as a runner, walker or hiker. We all move at varying paces all the time.
As hard as it is to believe for hardcore runners, not everyone prefers running. “The connotation here is that running is superior and if we aren’t good/fit/strong enough to run then we must resort to the easier / second prize option,” according to Australian race-walker Jemima Montag. Montag won the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and is favored to place well at the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Montag says, “I like to run and walk every day and to be honest—I walk faster than I run, so it’s certainly not the lazy option.”
She goes on: “Unless you have an injury that prevents you from running, it’s really about what you’re in the mood for. Some days you may crave a sweaty, puffy run ending in that endorphin rush. Other days you might prefer a walk with your dog and a coffee. What I’d really like to get across is that everyone can run, and everyone can walk.”
“[Walking is] a great form of cardio fitness that is easier on joints than say running, or anything that you pound on the ground with, like high-intensity exercises,” says Lisa Herrington, an ACSM-certified personal trainer, fitness instructor, and founder of FIT House Davis . It strengthens the heart muscles, boosts energy, improves mood, and can support healthy weight management, she adds—among many other benefits.
If you are walking as your main form of exercise, there are absolutely things you can do to boost the amount of fitness benefits you’re getting from your steps.
Perfect your stride
Anyone who wants to get better at their chosen sport works at it. They work on improving their form and developing good body mechanics in order perform their sport more efficiently (with more ease) and more effectively (with more success). Golfers do it, tennis players do it, runners do it. And yes, so should walkers. Walking is the one sport that so many people expect themselves to be able to do almost intuitively. And yet, these very same people often complain of sore feet, tight calf muscles, sore backs, tight shoulders and other ailments. SUPER TIP ALERT: there is a proper way to walk and many of us are not using it. It has to do with your posture and your stride and it is worth learning!
For example, Justin Meissner, a NASM-certified trainer, says one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to walk for exercise is taking huge strides to walk faster. “Too long of a step can put too much force on the knees and lower back,” he says. Instead, he says you should stick to your natural stride length and just increase the number of steps you take per minute (commonly called your “cadence”).
Strengthen your core
Your body’s core is much more than just your abdomen or the front of your body. Your core includes your back, your “butt” (glutes), your chest—everything other than your head and neck, legs and arms. Your core is responsible for your ability to stand upright, maintain stability and keep your balance. Having a strong core is important in everything we do, especially walking. However, according to Joanna Hall, MSc, a walking coach and creator and founder of WalkActive, “So many people with all good intentions pull every muscle in,” she says, from the glutes to the abs and arms. “This creates excessive tension in the body, leading to compression and lower back pain, and can contribute to increased knee and ankle strain and compromise good postural alignment.” Instead of tensing your muscles, you should work on building strength in your muscles. For example, try some of these core strengthening exercises.
Mix up your routine with interval training
If walking is your exercise method of choice, know that there’s one thing you can be doing after you lace up your shoes that not only makes your walks more interesting but it can also help with weight loss (if that is your goal): You can perform walking intervals—or varying the pace of your walks by working in shorter bursts of more intense walking.
“By varying the speed of your walk, especially adding in some faster pace interval work, you will raise your heart rate and increase your caloric expenditure, helping you lose more weight over time,” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and author. “Remember that your body is an intelligent machine that adapts to your workouts. By adding variation into your walks, you will keep your body challenged and ensure you avoid the dreaded weight-loss plateau.” And interval training also helps avoid boredom.
Walking does not have to be boring. Walking can be time used for meditation, catching up on audiobooks or podcasts, or spending time socializing with friends and family. Walking regularly can reduce the amount of stress you feel, help you sleep better, and improve your overall physical health. And walking is by no means “a consolation prize”. It is a sport in and of itself, so go out and enjoy!
And if you would like to learn more about making walking (and running and hiking) easier on your body while improving your efficiency and effectiveness, join me for Bliss with Your Body. The next session starts this Thursday, June 17th.