Walking 101: Walking tips

Thought you mastered walking at age one? Well, think again. Fitness walking isn't an afternoon stroll. We're going to get all of you exercise newbies moving with an easy walking program that's guaranteed to help you get fit, toned, and on track with a fun cardiovascular workout.

Walking tips

Before you get started, let's run through some easy-to-follow walking tips. By following these key steps, you'll reduce your risk of injury, ensure that your body works at its peak.

Remember to:
  • Stand up straight. Look directly ahead. Imagine that a string is attached to the top of your head and is lifting you from the ground. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed, chest lifted, and tailbone pointing down to the ground.
  • Relieve the stress points. Relax your shoulders and shake out any tension from your arms and wrists. Bend your arms at the elbow about 83 degrees. Wiggle your fingers and then hold your hands in loose balls (pretend you're clasping a jumbo-size magic marker against your palms). Swing your arms naturally as you walk, but try not to let your hands extend above your chest.
  • Keep your steps short and fast. The faster you move, the better your cardiovascular workout. Keep an even stride and maintain a steady pace.
  • Heel-to-toe motion. As you walk, your heel should be the first part of your foot to hit the ground. Roll through the ball of the foot and push off with your toes. This motion reduces the risk of shin splints and tendon pulls.


Stretching keeps your body flexible and it feels great. Stretching before and after your walk relaxes your body, increases your flexibility and allows your muscles to lengthen as they cool down, which reduces the possibility of injury. As your heartbeat returns to its pre-workout rate, you will feel refreshed and energized rather than tight and tired.

To get the full benefits of stretching, remember to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. If it's cold out, stretch indoors, away from drafty areas. Breathe deeply while doing your stretches and ease into them. Never force or jerk any movements.

One stretch that's great for your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs) and your lower back is a forward bend. To do this stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart toes pointed straight ahead. Slightly relax your knees and slowly bend forward at your hips. You should be looking down at your feet with your arms dangling on both sides. Just relax there for a couple of breaths and focus on relaxing and lengthening your lower back. You should feel a deep stretch in the back of your thighs, too! To come out of the stretch, bend your knees a little more (as if you were getting ready to sit in a chair) and slowly roll up, one vertebra at a time. This stretch also relieves tension in your shoulders and neck.

Here are more stretches that develop flexibility in the long muscles in the arms and legs:
  • Quadriceps Stretch: Stand facing a fence, hold on with one hand for balance. Bend your right knee and grasp around the ankle. Bring your heel toward the buttock and point your tailbone down toward the floor. Hold the knees close together feeling the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Calf Stretch: Facing a fence, place both hands on it. Position the ball of your right foot against the bottom of the fence with the heel on the ground. Place your left leg behind you. Press some of your body weight over your right foot until you feel your right calf stretching. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Shoulder and Chest Stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, abs pulled in. With both hands, hold a towel behind your body. Hands should be as close as possible to each other. Gently raise your arms up until you feel the stretch across your chest and in the front of your shoulders.

Target heart rate

You're walking nearly every day and you feel great. But are you getting the maximum cardiovascular benefits from your walking program? In newbie speak that's the difference between aerobic walking and an afternoon stroll.

To get the greatest advantages from your walking program, it's important to hit your target heart rate (THR). Your THR is the training point when your body benefits from aerobic exercise. Ideally you want to walk at your THR for a minimum of 20 minutes.

A handy walking tool that records your THR is a heart rate monitor. It tracks your cardiovascular progress and ensures that you're not overshooting or underworking during your walking routine.

Fitness assignment: This week log in 20 minutes of aerobic walking on four days. For maximum benefits, borrow a heart rate monitor and work at your THR!

Get the right gear

Unlike other sports, the only essential equipment you need to get started on a walking program are a comfortable pair of athletic walking shoes and well-cushioned socks.

Some things to keep in mind when shopping for gear:
  • When you walk, your heel is the point of first contact with the track or pavement, so you want to have one-quarter-inch to one-half-inch of cushioning under your shoe's heel. The cushioning protects your heels and absorbs any shock to the Achilles tendons.
  • Make sure your shoe's sole is firm and flexible. You want to have a flexible and wide toe box (the front part of the shoe) that won't hinder your toe push-off. You'll also need a firm mid-sole to support your arches.
  • Go for a practice lap around the store. Ask yourself: Is there enough room for you to wiggle your toes? Do the shoes rub against your heels? Are the shoes comfortable even when wearing a well-cushioned pair of socks?
  • Don't buy shoes that need to be "broken in." Your walking shoes should fit comfortably when you leave the store. Your feet will thank you.
  • Go "alternative" fibers. Cotton socks soak up moisture and perspiration, which can create rubbing and result in blisters. Look for mixed-fiber socks or sock liners, which draw moisture away from your skin.
Fitness assignment: Crank up your walking routine an extra notch to 25 minutes and extend it to five days. Buy yourself a new pair of socks to celebrate!

Steer clear of walking pitfalls

Walking is now part of your weekly fitness routine and you're wondering why you didn't start years ago. To stay safe and maintain your program, keep the following things in mind:
  • Drink Up! Your muscles work more effectively when they're well saturated. Have a tall glass of water, room temperature is ideal, before you head out and another glass when you return home. If it's a warm day you might want to carry a small container just in case you need a thirst quencher.
  • Drop the Weights. Handheld weights or ankle weights throw-off your natural gait, which can cause muscle strain or injury. If you want to develop your upper body or specific leg muscles, check out Karen Voight's total body toning program for suggestions. But when you hit the pavement -- lighten up.
  • Music, Yes?/Music, No? Listening to music can be a great way to pass the time and keep a steady pace when you walk. But depending on where and when you walk, headphones can be a dangerous accessory. If you're walking at night, on an unfamiliar path, near traffic, or bicycle paths -- you want to have all of your senses alert and engaged. So stay safe, leave the headphones at home.
  • Don't Ignore the Pain. If you feel pain in your legs, back, or anywhere else when you walk -- stop! You may relieve minor aches if you doublecheck your form, increase your warm-up, or add supports to your walking shoes. For chronic problems, you should probably check in with a doctor.
Fitness assignment: This week hold the line at five days, but add another five minutes to your program. If you're feeling ambitious, work on your upper-body on one of your free days!

Foot injuries

The bad news is that if your feet hurt, you're not going to enjoy your walk. The good news is that some common foot problems are fairly easy to treat and easier still to avoid. Here's how not to get sidelined:
  • To prevent blisters, stop them before they start. Keep your feet dry. Steer clear of cotton socks, which soak up perspiration, and wear socks made with fibers that draw moisture away from your skin. Or slip on a sock liner under your cotton socks. Rub petroleum jelly on your feet and between your toes before gearing up. This will reduce irritation that can lead to blisters. And finally, don't lace your shoes too tightly or too loosely. The pinching and rubbing may create blister-forming irritation.
  • Aching arches are usually caused by pounding when you walk. The first thing you need to do is check your form. Are you leading with your heel and pushing off with your toe? If the problem persists, arch supports might help; if that doesn't work, consult your podiatrist or sports doctor.
  • Corns and calluses are painful, and they don't look so great either. Check your shoes to make sure you've got a comfortable fit. And toss thin socks: You want to have a nice cushion between your feet and the inside of your shoes.
  • Blackened toenails are common and painful, and are caused when your big toe hits the front of your shoe. Keep your toenails neatly trimmed and filed. Check your shoe size. Most people have one foot that's larger than the other. Always buy your walking shoes for the larger foot.
Here are two tension-relieving foot stretches that feel great (remove your shoes and socks before starting):
  • Stand up straight, with your shoulders back, stomach pulled in, bottom tucked under, and feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your waist. Slightly bend your knees. Shift your weight back onto your heels and lift your toes off the ground. Arch the front of your feet. Spread your toes as wide as you can. Hold the stretch for the count of five and don't forget to breathe. This will feel terrific before you head out and later when you return home.
  • Find a comfortable chair and practice picking up magic markers with your toes. Give your toes a nice press, grip the marker, lift your foot five to six inches off the ground, then set it down. Do this stretch six times, alternating your feet.
  • Fitness assignment: Maintain your five day, 30-minute program. Treat yourself to some soothing lotion, peppermint is great! Massage your feet, using firm, circular motions, after your walks.

Walking rewards

This walking program will help you stay fit, reduce stress, and improve your all-around health. What’s more, it’s fun and easy to do. Good for you!

To stay motivated, why not:
  • Visit the message boards. You'll find walking buddies to share goals, challenges, and successes. Don't forget to post your favorite walks and why you love walking!
  • Find a local walking club. Group walks are fun ways to meet other active people, and mix up your standard routine.
  • Prepare for a 5K or 10K walk this year. What better way to focus your efforts than to have a goal in sight?
  • Add weight training to your fitness program. Toned muscles work more efficiently, reduce your chance of injury, and burn calories faster!
  • To keep your body healthy, don't forget to stretch.
Fitness assignment: Keep walking!

The Walker's Calorie Counter

To find out how many calories you burn walking:
  1. Find your weight on the left
  2. Find the speed you walk on the right
The corresponding number is the amount of calories used per hour.

Weight (in lbs.) Miles per hour
  2 2.5 3 4 4.5
100 114 136 159 182 205
105 119 143 167 191 215
100 114 136 159 182 205
105 119 143 167 191 215
110 125 150 175 200 225
115 131 157 183 209 235
120 136 164 191 218 245
125 142 170 199 227 256
130 148 177 207 236 266
135 153 184 215 245 276
140 159 191 223 255 286
145 165 198 231 264 297
150 170 205 239 273 307
155 176 211 247 282 317
160 182 218 255 291 327
165 188 225 263 300 338
170 193 232 270 309 348
180 205 245 286 327 368
185 210 252 294 336 378
190 216 259 302 345 389
200 227 273 318 364 409
205 233 280 326 373 419
210 239 286 334 382 430
215 244 293 342 391 440
220 250 300 350 400 450
225 256 307 358 409 460
230 261 314 366 418 470
235 267 320 374 427 481
240 273 327 382 436 491
245 278 334 390 445 501
250 284 341 398 455 511
255 290 348 406 464 522
260 295 355 414 473 532
265 301 361 422 482 542
270 307 368 430 491 552
275 313 375 438 500 563
280 318 382 445 509 573
285 324 389 453 518 583
290 330 395 461 527 593
295 335 402 469 536 603
300 341 409 477 545 614

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