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Walking Tips from the Experts

Getting the most out of a walking program involves more than throwing on some clothes and stepping out the door. It's important to first take a minute and prepare your body.

Start by standing up straight.For proper posture, tuck in your behind by rotating your hips forward just a little. The goal is to keep you from arching your back. Then, shrug your shoulders once to relax them just before you head out the door.

Don't lean. Leaning in any direction puts unnecessary strain on the back muscles.

Practice breathing by pushing your stomach out as you inhale and sucking it back in as you exhale. Look at your chest and abdomen while you're breathing. Now place one hand on the part that rises and falls the most during each breath. If your abdomen is moving more, you're doing fine. But, if your chest is doing most of the moving, you're not utilizing the lower part of your lungs.

When you start to walk, the heel of your foot should touch the ground first and then roll your weight forward. Push through your big toe while keeping the other toes relaxed. If you want to work the glute muscles (your butt) even more, take short quick steps instead of the long strides.

Once you start walking, it's the little things you do that'll make the biggest difference. Here are some of those little things you'll want to pay attention to.

  • As you walk, focus your eyes about 10 to 20 feet ahead of you. Looking down can create unnecessary strain on your neck and back. Keep your chin up and parallel to the ground.

  • Be careful not to overstride. That means taking longer steps simply to increase speed. Overstriding is inefficient and can lead to injuries. The back leg is what's pushing you forward, the front leg is powerless. Ideally when walking your stride should be longer behind your body. Maximize the push that back leg is giving you to get the most out of each step. If your goal is to move faster, increase the number of steps you're taking, not the length of each step.

     


  • Give yourself a boost by simply moving your arms more forcefully. Every step you take your arms swing forward. If your arms are straight, they have to swing further and can slow down your pace. If you want to walk faster, your elbows should be bent at 90 degree angles and kept close to your body.

  • Punch your arms forward and back instead of across your body for a more intense cardio experience. Don't clench your fists because it can unnecessarily raise your blood pressure. Always move the opposite arm and foot forward together.

  • Don't waste energy pumping your arms up in the air any higher than your breastbone; it doesn't help move you forward. If your arms get tired, give them a rest and keep walking. The first few times you walk you may only be able to use your arms for 3-5 minutes at a stretch.

  • Bump your calorie burn up to the next level by bringing along some ski poles. There are several brands designed just for walking and they're simple to use. When your left leg goes forward, your right arm mirrors it. Using poles makes walking feel almost like gliding and using them can increase calorie burn by as much as 30 percent.

If you want something really challenging, an advanced move you can try is to squeeze your glutes together and hold them tight for 30 seconds. Relax for 10 seconds then squeeze them together again. Keep repeating this until you can do it fifteen or twenty times. It may take awhile to do more than a couple, but over time the glute squeeze will strengthen your lower back muscles.

Immerse yourself in the moment. Relax your jaw and release tension in your neck. Use your walking time to escape from the stresses of the day. Remind yourself it's a step on the way to your ultimate goal of a healthy, strong, fit body.

Finally, don't stretch first. If you stretch your muscles while they're cold, you risk tearing them. The best thing to do is save any stretching until after you've finished walking.

Ready? Set? Go walk!

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beginning any diet or exercise program.

5/4/2008