By Sally Warner, PhD (Member, Medical & Scientific Advisory Board)
Walking can be such a mindless activity. But when you embark on a 60-mile walk, you really need to be mindful of your body and support your walk with intention. You can improve your walk by training to increase your speed and reduce injury.
The walking cycle
Walking is a coordinated effort of the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. The cycle of how a person walks is called the gait. There are two phases to the gait cycle:
- The time a foot is on the ground is called the “stance” and makes up 60% of the cycle.
- The motion of the foot off of the ground is called the “swing.”
During the stance phase, there are four motions that involve the foot:
- The heel strikes the ground.
- The entire foot contacts the ground.
- The heel lifts, placing weight on the ball of the foot.
- The big toe helps propel the lift and swing.
The swing phase has two characteristics:
- acceleration into the swing,
- deceleration into placement of the heel for the next step.
Get your feet and legs ready
Feet: Think of your feet as your base of support that allows you to have good alignment as you walk. Stand tall, and imagine that the heel, the big toe and the little toe form a triangle. Try to feel all three points as you stand. Then practice coming onto the balls of your feet to help improve your balance.
Ankles: Flexibility of the ankles helps with walking. To increase flexibility, slowly point and flex your foot any time you are sitting. Pointing stretches the ligaments on the top of the foot and flexing stretches the Achilles tendon. Then move your foot around in circles to help create ankle flexibility in all directions.
Knees: Build good muscle strength in the quads and hamstrings to help support the knee joint. Cross train with a stationary bike, elliptical machine or by walking up stairs. Wearing proper shoes will also help with the knees.
Hips: Maintain flexibility and strength in your hips to help with balance and motion. Simple stretches like lunge progressions and strengthening exercises like 3-way hip exercise can help with the hip flexors and gluteus medius muscles on the sides of your hips and butt.
Be sure to stretch your muscles as part of every training session.
Get in gear
Good walking shoes are generally flat but flexible so your foot rolls forward with each step. They should fit well but leave enough room for your feet to spread out while walking. Wear socks that are comfortable. Try socks in cotton or other sweat-wicking materials — they will keep your feet drier and help prevent blisters.
Now let’s walk!
Walking with good alignment and posture helps you take full breaths, engage your core muscles, and use your leg and butt muscles.
- Stand tall and tighten your abs slightly to help maintain posture.
- Tuck in your hips to keep from arching your back.
- Focus ahead on where you are walking.
- Add an arm motion to balance your leg motion and add to your speed.
- Lengthen your stride in back to propel yourself forward for power and speed. Walking this way also puts less stress on your joints.
- Place your front foot closer to the center of your body.
- Think about keeping your back foot on the ground longer.
- Give yourself a good push off the back foot to add power to your stride.
Have a friend watch you walk and give you feedback on your posture and stride. As you get used to this new stride, you can take smaller steps and increase your speed.
About Dr. Warner
Dr. Warner is a member of the American Bone Health Medical and Scientific Advisory Board. She is Vice President, Scientific and Medical Services, at PAREXEL Informatics. Dr. Warner’s academic field of study was in the biophysical science of sport and exercise physiology. She received her PhD from the University of Utah and her MA from the University of Connecticut. She writes and teaches courses in the field of musculoskeletal imaging.