13776 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • These Legs Were Made for Walking

    image Karyn Simmonds is not your ordinary athlete. The 40-year-old mother of one has completed three 100-mile runs, twelve 50-milers, 65 marathons, and countless 10Ks and 5Ks in the past 15 years. She trained for the endurance races, which are usually run on trails in mountainous terrain, by running 50 to 70 miles per week and riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes four times per week—that is, until she fractured a tibia .
    "After my stress fracture, my doctor advised me to walk, so I started walking hills," says Simmonds, who took a six-week hiatus from running in order to heal. "When I got back to training, I realized that I could walk hills faster than I could before. Actually, there was a time when I was power walking in a race past people who were running. I decided then to train for walking, too."

    Why Walk?

    While many athletes view walking merely as a means of transportation, a way to get from here to there, what they do not realize is that it can actually be a complement to their vigorous training programs. In fact, walking is comparable to other forms of exercise in terms of cardiovascular benefit. For example, a study conducted by Bill Byrnes, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Colorado, compared the cardiovascular benefits of people who ran, walked, or did aerobics. They all exercised at 75% to 85% of their maximum heart rate, and each group saw almost identical improvements in aerobic fitness.
    Walking offers other benefits, as well, like fewer injuries. Mainly it is because of the force with which you hit the ground when running versus when walking, says Mark Fenton, former editor of Walking magazine. While the impact force of running is roughly three times that of your body weight, the impact force of walking is just one and a half times your body weight—not a difference to sneeze at.

    Better Running Times?

    It is true that walking can improve your level of fitness and help reduce the amount of time you spend pounding the pavement (or grass or trail), taking the pressure off your joints. However, can it help you with your running times? According to Olson, the answer is yes.
    "There is an old saying in exercise physiology that if you mix training, you get mixed results," she says. "If you want to excel at running, you would want to stick to activities that closely mimic running, such as interval training and sprinting, so that you continue to develop that skill. Walking would fit in with that."
    Simmonds can testify to that. She says that walking has not only increased her overall fitness, but it has also helped her race times. "There is a race I have done three times—the Quadruple Dipsy. It is 28.4 miles and goes up and over two mountains. The times I had walking in my training, I won the races and was significantly stronger than the time when I was only running (for training)."

    Take a Walking Break

    So if you are suffering from overuse injuries but do not want to forego exercising every day, try incorporating walking into your program. At the very most, you will improve your health, well-being, and race times. At the very least, you will give your knees (and hips and ankles) a much-needed break.

    How to Make Walking a Workout

    "National caliber race walkers routinely train at 7 mph or faster and get their heart rates up over 85% of max," says Mark Fenton, a five-time national race walking team member. "With a normal walking gait, without any technique modification, you cannot get above about 60% to 65% of max because most people top out at about 4.5 miles per hour."
    In other words, if you want to walk at speeds high enough to get a great workout, you need to work on your form. Follow these four tips, and you will be on your way:
    1. Maintain an upright posture. Do not lean forward at the waist. Look forward, not down at the ground.
    2. Take quicker strides, not longer ones. To make it a real workout, you have to stride between 140 to 150 steps per minute.
      Tip: Try counting steps for 20 seconds. You should be doing about 50 steps in that period.
    3. Bend your arms. Use a compact and quick arm swing. Hands should trace an arc from your waistband at the back to chest height in front. (Taking a longer arm swing will actually make you take slower steps.)
    4. Push off your toes. At the end of each stride, aggressively push off the ground with your toes.

    No-Frills Drills

    The Straight-Away
    At your local track, jog along at a slow pace around the turn. When you get to the straight-away, break into a fast walk, trying to stay at the same pace as your jogging. When you get to the turn, jog again.
    Do two to three laps. Next time out, make it four laps. Build up to six laps.
    When you feel comfortable doing six laps, start to extend the drill to an entire lap of walking for every half-lap of jogging. Build up to the point (over a couple of weeks) where you can do 6-8 laps of that. When you feel comfortable, move up to walking an entire half-mile or mile at a time at a brisk tempo. This could take as long as 5-6 weeks.
    The Prance
    Start at one end of the track. For 10 seconds, walk with the shortest, quickest steps you can take. Try to take 3-4 steps in one second, which would put you at 180 steps per minute. If you can do this, then getting to 150 steps per minute (the goal set in the Straight-away) will not seem that extreme. Rest for a minute, then repeat a half-dozen times. The goal here is to be able to go a half-mile or a mile at a time at 150 steps per minute.

    RESOURCES

    American Nordic Walking Association http://anwa.us/html/index.php/

    International Association of Athletics Federations http://www.iaaf.org/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    Healthy U http://www.healthyalberta.com/

    References

    McGovern D. The Complete Guide to Race Walking Technique and Training. World Class Publications; 1998.

    Racewalk website. Available at: http://www.racewalk.com .

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.