During any busy season, keeping up with a fitness program can be a challenge.
One of the best ways to deal with the stress is through physical activity, and one of the easiest ways to accomplish this during all the hustle and bustle is by simply walking. Besides the well documented health benefits, the beauty of walking is you can go at your own pace - and you can do it anywhere.
Once you are ready to hit the road (or the trail, treadmill or track) how do you make the most of your walking workout? Here are some practical tips for getting maximum aerobic, strength, postural and conditioning benefits from your walking program.
1. Warm up First, Then Stretch. Start by walking for just seven to 10 minutes (wear a watch) and then do a few gentle stretches. Your muscles will stretch better if you've warmed them up first. The first minute is as important as the ninetieth minute.
2. Take Short, Quick Steps. By taking short, quick steps, rather than long strides you will work your "glute" muscles (in your buttocks) as you log miles.
3. Practice the Heel-Toe Roll. Push off from your heel, roll through the outside of the foot, and then push through the big toe. Keep the other toes relaxed. (This takes practice.)
4. Squeeze Your Glutes. Imagine squeezing and lifting your glutes up and back as if you were holding a $50.00 bill between them! This will strengthen your low back muscles.
5. "Zip up" Your Abs. During your walk, imagine you're zipping up a tight pair of jeans. Stand tall and pull your abdominal muscles up and in. You can practice this even when you are not walking.
6. Pump Your Arms. Imagine you are holding the rubber grips of ski poles in your hands. Stand straight, drop your shoulder blades behind you and push back your elbows with each step. Keep your arm movements smooth and strong.
7. Keep Your Chest Up, Shoulders Back. Use your walk as an opportunity to practice good posture. Imagine someone dumped ice down your back. That's the feeling you want to have as you hold your chest up and shoulders back.
8. Keep Your Head Up. Look about 10 feet ahead of you. Imagine that you're wearing a baseball cap and have to look up just enough to see the road. This keeps your neck aligned properly.
9. Smile and Have Fun. Learning these techniques takes time and concentration. Be patient and enjoy your workout. Dress comfortably, find a partner or wear a headset and listen to music you love. If you're walking outdoors, vary your routine. Remember the importance of the "warm down". The warm down is aimed at gradually returning the body to its resting state. This will help to prevent muscle stiffness and the onset of muscle soreness that can follow a training session.
10. Practice "Mental Fitness". Don't replay the problems of the day while you walk. Try to maintain a state of relaxed awareness by paying attention to your breathing and noticing how your body feels. Visualize yourself getting healthier and stronger. Think about some positive goals you have been establishing for yourself and your family. Imagine your walking routine as something to take you closer to those goals.
Consistency is probably the most important part of your walking workout. The more committed you are to walking all or most days of the week, the healthier you'll be.