How to walk properly
Walking is one of the most accessible and all-around good-for-you exercise programmes you can implement. Not only is it easy to throw on a pair of walking shoes and head out the door, but this straightforward form of low-impact, cardiovascular exercise works your heart, lungs, legs and even your core.
Although walking may not seem like something you can mess up – you’ve been doing it practically your whole life, after all – details really matter when it comes to using walking for exercise. To get the most impact from your routine, you need to make sure your form is up to snuff.
Here’s what you need to know about how to walk properly, plus walking mistakes you might be making.
Health benefits of walking
“All of the brilliant benefits of exercise – improved heart and lung health, stronger bones, lowered stress, thanks in large part to endorphins, and better sleep quality – can be achieved with something as simple as regular walking,” says certified personal trainer Laura Flynn Endres. “But there are unexpected benefits as well. Walking improves digestion, so walking for 10 to 15 minutes after lunch will make you feel satisfied and fresh, instead of full and sluggish. And, if you walk outside, you get the added benefit of fresh air, sunshine and the emotional release that comes from getting away and outside for a while.”
Of course, walking is also great for fat loss and maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, Endres points out that research indicates walking can be an effective means to blunt the effects of some 32 obesity-promoting genes by up to half. You don’t even have to log kilometres upon kilometres of daily steps to start seeing the benefits. If you’ve previously been sedentary, it’s possible to start reaping the rewards of walking by increasing your step count to just 3,500 to 4,000 steps a day – a number that’s a lot more attainable than the often-cited 10,000 steps per day.
Why walking form is important
Once again, you’ve been walking practically your entire life, so surely your form can’t be that bad, right? Well … that depends. The reality is, walking is a surprisingly complex movement that requires coordination and engagement of everything from your toes to your neck and shoulders as you carry your entire body weight forward.
And, as you get older, changes to your body can result in changes to your walking mechanics. For instance, an old knee injury that flares up and causes pain may cause you to subconsciously favour one leg over the other. Or, if you’re carrying a little extra weight, you may start walking with a wider stance with outward angled toes to help support the kilos.
“Most of us have a dominant side,” Endres says. “If your strong leg does more of the work, it can lead to more side-to-side movement, uneven hips, or harder landings with one foot than the other. Those imbalances add up over time.”
And with a walking programme designed to increase your step count, those imbalances add up even faster. Even if you’re “perfectly healthy” without injuries or other issues leading to changes in side-to-side mechanics, that doesn’t mean your walking form is correct. Correct posture plays an important role, too.
“People don’t always consider that there are form considerations for walking, just like there are for exercises like squats and push-ups,” Endres says. “And a weak core is often the culprit. If your abs and back muscles are weak, or if you simply don’t pay attention to them while walking, you might slump, look down, or lean too far forward when walking, leading to inefficient walking form.”
Keep reading to discover common walking-form mistakes and learn how to walk properly.