Walking has always been an easy entry-level form of exercise that can provide long lasting positive effects on physical and mental health. Walking is now becoming a growing hobby for everyone stuck at home during the current pandemic we are experiencing in 2020. With all this extra time on people’s hands, we have more time to focus on our health. For those looking to improve their well-being or just escape the house, walking can be much more than just a leisure activity.
That’s right, if it’s been a while since your sneakers have seen the sunlight you should consider preparing your body and easing your body into a walking routine. Although walking may seem like a leisure activity for most, you need to keep in mind that walking is a repetitive form of exercise. This means that the same muscle groups are going through the same repetitions and contraction patterns every single step and every single kilometre. This means that there is a risk of developing an overuse injury, similar to overuse running injuries developed by runners. If your body has been settling into a sitting posture over the winter months and recent quarantine your hips, knees and low back almost certainly need some preparation before lacing up your sneakers and tackling a rugged trail or urban path.
- Heel-raises: Heel raises are a great way to warm up your ankles and get blood flowing in the calf muscles. Your calf muscle has two muscle bellies. When you are up on your toes try shifting your body weight from your big toe to your baby toe and see if you can feel these different muscle bellies contracting.
- Squats: Body-weight squats (meaning no-weights) are a great active warm-up to open up your hip range of motion, increase blood flow to the thighs and stretch the gluteal muscles. You don’t need to do a full squat, the goal here is to get blood flowing and muscles contracting. Fun fact: the gluteus maximus (more commonly called your buttocks) is your largest muscle in the body and many people do not use it to its full potential! Pedorthists see this limited use every day and can help you improve the function of your hips while you walk.
- Toe-stretch: You may not think about your toes much, but they play a very important role in walking. Prepare your feet for your walk by stretching all 5 of your toes up and toward your shin. If you have tight foot muscles you may feel a stretch through the bottom of your foot. If you feel an exceptionally tight stretch you should consider massaging your feet with a firm ball before walking or even consult your local pedorthist.
- Stretch: You likely do not need to do much stretching before a walk. Researchers are finding that static stretching is far less effective at warming up muscles than the exercises listed above. However, it is a good idea to stretch any specific muscles that you know are routinely tight in your body. Pro-tip – make frequent stops during your walk to stretch. This will also give your body a brief rest to get more oxygen into your blood which will delay muscle fatigue. Stopping to stretch and take a quick break, even if you don’t feel tired, will allow you to go farther and faster.
Watches, Apps & Stats
With the surge of tech in the last decade it seems like everyone is tracking every second and every metre of their exercise routines. The ability to use data to track your goals and exercise achievements is empowering but it can also be harmful, so be careful what you pay attention to and remember to always ‘listen’ to your body. It is not normal to do EXACTLY 10,000 steps every single day. It is important to set goals, but it is also important to give yourself a break if you do not reach your daily goal. Life is busy and unpredictable in the best of times so cut yourself some slack. If your goal is to do 10k steps per day and you were 4k short yesterday, do not try and do 14k steps today to make up for the missing steps; this is what leads to injury.
Some great tech that you can use for your walks include Strava, AllTrails, Garmin Connect, Nike Run Club, FitBit, Apple Watch, and a really fun one I personally recommend everyone try at least once is an app called ‘Zombies, Run!’
Try your best not to do the same route, in the same shoes, at the same pace, every single walk. Keep your body fine-tuned by mixing up your walks with some variety. If you walk to the end of your laneway and turn right every single walk (assuming you are on a sidewalk) you are putting asymmetrical stress on your right and left legs due to the sidewalk being sloped. This is another possible cause for injury. Try going alternate routes to put a variety of stress on your muscle groups.
A great way to train your heart and improve cardiovascular health is to do interval training. This can be done while walking and is not just reserved for athletes. Try walking at a comfortable pace for about 75% of your walk and work in several short higher-intensity segments throughout your route. This will cause your heart-rate to adjust to the new speed. Researchers have shown that this change in heart-rate improves cardiovascular endurance and health better than maintaining a steady heart-rate (and therefore speed) the entire route of your walk.
Change up your footwear. Footwear is a functional piece of clothing. Just like your smart-watch and your sunglasses, footwear serves both a functional purpose and a fashion purpose. You won’t be surprised to read that most pedorthists care little about footwear fashion and that’s because improper footwear can cause a multitude of problems and injuries. Make sure you consult your local pedorthist to learn about what footwear features match your foot-type and the activity you are wearing them for. One pair of sneakers is not necessarily appropriate for all activities. Many high-end athletes will train in a variety of footwear that have very similar features, yet are just different enough that muscle groups are recruited slightly differently between each pair of shoes. By rotating between 2-3 pair of shoes this prevents muscles from contracting in the exact same position and length every single step, every single day. Indeed this is a large investment, but one that will pay-off in the form of decreased risk of injury and a better looking footwear wardrobe!
by Brandon Nethercott, R. Kin, C. Ped (C)