By Rachel Song
Walking is a great low-impact exercise for boosting cardiovascular health, strengthening muscles in the legs and glutes, and even preventing back pain common in those of us with 9 to 5 desk jobs. The problem is that many people don’t learn how to walk properly as it seems like a fairly intuitive activity. However, walking improperly not only prevents you from reaping the full benefits of the exercise but can also lead to injuries such as shin splints and foot pain.
Here are 6 common mistakes to avoid to improve your stride for a healthier walk:
A natural tendency is to step out farther with the front foot when increasing walking speed. This tendency throws off your natural gait, leading to a straighter knee, a harder heel strike, and a higher vertical leap which places even more pressure on the feet.
To avoid foot, shin, and hip pain, walk with shorter steps, pushing off harder with the rear foot to increase speed rather than compensating with a farther forward step.
- Limp arms
Letting your arms hang loosely by your sides while walking may be comfortable but they will act like weights pulling you back, putting pressure on your upper back and shoulders.
To walk more efficiently, keep your arms at a 90° angle and swing them forwards and backwards, keeping your elbows close to your sides and your hands below chest level at the forward swing. Make sure your hands don’t cross the center of your chest as well—they should swing front and back, not to the side. This natural swing will help elongate your upper back and shoulders to prevent tension as you walk.
- Looking down
It’s a natural inclination to look down at your feet while walking but unless you are on uneven or rocky terrain, it is more beneficial to keep your chin parallel to the ground and your head up. This will lengthen your body, enhancing breath and lessening tension in your upper body.
- Not engaging your core
Walking without engaging your core leads to bad posture such as leaning back behind your hips or too far forward, which can put unnecessary strain on your lower back.
Keep your abdominals lightly engaged and your body tilted no more than 5° forward to keep your core activated.
Walking mostly only builds the muscles at the back of your legs: calves, hamstrings, and glutes. Therefore, continuous and repetitive walking can lead to an imbalance of muscle groups hazardous to the overall alignment of your body.
To combat this imbalance, throw in a few exercises for your quads and outer hips like squats, cycling, and outer leg swings. It is important to keep your body aligned to prevent straining any one muscle group such as the hips.
- Wearing the wrong shoes
Hopefully this isn’t the first time you’re hearing that you need proper footwear to exercise properly. Stiff or unsupportive shoes can cause a number of common foot condition such as Plantar Fasciitis, Metatarsalgia, and Bunions by restricting natural foot movement.
In contrast, properly designed & cushioned footwear from healthy footwear brands like Aetrex can prevent and even provide relief from these conditions. The proper footwear should allow your foot full mobility while providing protection from natural wear and tear.
These attributes are perfect for walking: the orthotic is designed with arch support to minimize over-pronation, essentially stabilizing your stride and supporting the natural curves in your feet. The memory foam absorbs shock as your foot lands on hard surfaces, providing the proper cushioning needed to sustain long excursions. Finally the Aegis® layer helps prevent odor and bacteria for a healthier foot environment.
This all may seem like a lot to remember but with some practice they should become a natural part of your routine and will lead to a healthier, well-balanced body! Good luck!