It’s no secret that walking is one of the very best forms of aerobic exercise that we can do. At Hilton Head Health, we often incorporate all kinds of walking into our Guests fitness routines. Whether it be walking on the beach, walking in between fitness classes or just walking around the beautiful grounds, we love to walk with our Guests! The health benefits are numerous, including reducing cholesterol, as well as the risk of heart attack and high blood pressure, and it can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation. Simply put, it is what we are designed to do! It is one exercise you never have to worry about overdoing and the risk of injury is quite low.
However, when using walking as part of your aerobic fitness plan, it is important to remember that the quality of your walk is what determines the results you can achieve.
Here are 10 tips to maximize your walking workout:
1. Set Goals. You can use goals such as time or distance to inspire you. Try adding one minute of high intensity effort for every three minutes of moderate intensity. Or look for an object in the distance, such as a sign, a bench or a street corner and speed up your pace until you reach it. Also, make a plan for how many times a week you want to get out and complete your walk. Whether it be every morning, 3 mornings a week, after lunch every day, etc. and be sure you stick to it!
2. Maintain good posture. Keep your back straight, your chin up and your shoulders aligned over your hips. When your body is in proper alignment it allows your back and butt muscles to engage more powerfully, which can increase your speed and calorie burn. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in to help protect your back, and to keep you from rounding forward.
3. Use Your Arms. Vigorously pumping your arms can help you walk faster and burn more calories. Be mindful to keep your arms close to your body, strike slightly above your heart, and maintain a controlled movement to avoid excess strain on your back and shoulders. And contrary to popular belief, we encourage you to avoid hand weights. This is particularly important if you have a bad back or joint problems. Using hand weights can cause stress injuries to your arm muscles and joints. Just making light fists with your hands will contract the arm muscles for an added toning effect and a little extra calorie burn. And under no circumstances should you walk with weights around your ankles, as this significantly increases the potential for knee injury.
4. Motivate yourself with music or a workout buddy. Playing upbeat music can make exercise feel more like fun than work. People who listen to music tend to walk longer than those who don’t. Just remember to be cautious of how loud your music is. You want to be able to stay aware of your surroundings and avoid dangerous situations.
During both our weight loss program and wellness program, we encourage having someone in your life to motivate you and keep you accountable. Walking with a partner can be a great motivational tool. You can keep each other on track and inspired! But walking with a buddy has its drawbacks as well. Statistically, walking with a partner decreases your walking pace, sometimes significantly. Typically, this is due to the conversation that is taking place! Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind while walking with a partner:
A. Walk with someone who keeps a similar pace with you.
B. Try to keep conversation to a minimum! You can try to walk in one direction with no conversation and talk on the way back or vice versa! Or do your walk without talking and take turns meeting at each other’s house afterward for a quick cup of coffee to catch up.
C. Be prepared to walk on your own when your buddy is not available. Solo walking is a great way to clear your mind and relax!
5. Avoid eating or drinking too much before your walk. It can slow you down and/or give you cramps. If you have just had a large meal it can interfere with the digestive process and double the workload on the heart. You may need to wait up to 2 hours before you can walk comfortably.
6. Get Outside. People who walk outside are more likely to stick to their exercise regiment. Being outdoors can be a meditative experience, allowing you to clear your mind and lower stress levels. A change of scenery is a great boredom buster as well. Additionally, people who walk outside tend to walk longer than those on treadmills. Try using an app, such as “mapmywalk,” to create new routes and track accurate distance.
7. Use a pedometer and track your progress. Journal your activity each day (type, time and distance) and then challenge yourself to improve in the next workout. Heading out the door with the goal to improve can help you increase your number of strides and the length of time you spend exercising.
8. Check your intensity. A heart-rate monitor is an excellent way to determine how hard you’re working. It can ‘coach’ you to pick up the pace if you are slowing down or reduce the pace if you are working too hard. If you do not have a heart rate monitor, refer to your pedometer. Keep in mind that 2,000 steps is equal to about 1 mile and you should aim to cover that in about 15 minutes time on average. Walk with a sense of purpose and determination!
9. Stride matters. Proper use of your feet makes all the difference. Try rolling through from the heel of the foot to the toes and pushing off just as you get to the ball of your foot and big toe, allowing your ankle to work through a complete range of motion. This will help to recruit the calves, hamstrings and gluteals effectively. The more muscles you use, the more calories you burn!
10. Add some fitness moves. To beat boredom and increase metabolism, try adding a variety of movements into your walking workout. Consider push-ups on a bench, walking lunges, short bursts of jogging, jumping jacks, walking sideways, triceps dips on a bench, knee raises – the list goes on! Be creative – have a list of activities in mind and perform one of them every 5 minutes. This helps to involve a variety of muscles, expend more calories and make the time go by very quickly!