Walking is one of the most natural and best ‘bang for your buck’ movements you can do for your physical and mental health.
It’s low impact and therefore a very low risk for injury, boosts your fitness, relieves stress and can help alleviate pain such as low back pain. It has also been shown to help you live a longer and better quality of life.
However, sometimes walking can seem too simple and become boring if its done the same way all the time.
Hence, I’ve been experimenting with some variations to really boost your health and fitness. As they say; variety is the spice of life!
The utilisation of different muscle groups and energy systems within your body makes it a total body workout.
A note on good form
Form is your foundation. As easy as walking seems to be, many people walk incorrectly. Maintaining good form is crucial for you to be able to yield the benefits. There are a couple of key things to consider;
- Posture: stand tall and keep the head up high and centered between the shoulders with your eyes focused straight ahead. Avoid slouching forward or hyperextending backwards.
- Engage the right muscles: gently tighten stomach muscles, swing from the arms and contact the ground with the heels first and push away with your toes whilst gently squeezing your glutes (pretend you are holding a credit card between your cheeks).
Walking variations and progressions
- Normal walking
If you are completely inactive now, begin with short distances and short time periods of about 10-15 minutes at a time. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity by increasing your time or distance.
2. Brisk endurance walking
This will start to build up your fitness level because you are getting your heart rate up. Walk at a speed slightly faster than your normal pace for 10-15 mins. Then aim to walk for about 1 mile.
Then you can build up to walking for 30 minutes or longer at a brisk pace without being completely out of breathe.
3. Side walking
Walk side to side keeping body straight, knees soft and not locked. This walking style challenges the body in a different plane of motion and works the hip area, inner and outer thighs.
4. Backwards walking
This may sound strange but if you think about it, backwards walking has several additional benefits that you don’t get with forwards walking such as better coordination, mental focus and puts less pressure on the knees. Make sure there are no objects behind you and start with small backward steps for 1 minute and gradually build up from there.
5. Hill walking
Choose about a 30 degree incline to start with and gradually increase it. The key thing to remember with hill walking is to embrace the good form tips outlined above i.e. keep yourself tall and don’t slouch forward whilst pushing off the ground with your toes and engaging the glutes.
6. Speed walking
This is all about power. Power isn’t just for rugby players, it’s very important for everyone to build and maintain strength and mobility to perform everyday activities. Walk as fast as you can whilst swinging your arms at 90 degrees and lifting your knees up to hip level in a controlled manner.
7. Interval walking
This is all about changing the walking speed to work different energy systems and boost fitness levels. For example, 1 minute normal walk followed by 1 minute speed walk. Repeat the cycle for 30-60 minutes.
8. Weighted walking
This is where you can really reap the benefits of walking. Carrying a weighted backpack or holding on to heavy 15kg+ dumbbells engages every muscle in the kinetic chain resulting in total body strength and stability. Start with small, slow steps and gradually build up.
Again, the key thing to remember is to keep yourself tall, gently tighten the stomach muscles and engage the glutes.
N.B. you can carry heavy bags of shopping or fill up two suitcases if you don’t have dumbbells.
Walk your way to a higher quality of life
Taking care of your health is a lifelong process.
For anyone who has chronic pain, wants to improve and maintain good health and fitness or reduce stress the simple act of walking greatly aids this.
However, intelligent progressions and variations such as those outlined are encouraged to reduce chronic pain, boost fitness and lead to an overall better quality of life.