Walking is a natural and a relatively easy exercise and, yet, there are walking mistakes commonly made that can be avoided to improve health benefits and minimize body tension and injury. Paying attention to these pitfalls can add enjoyment and mileage to the walking exercise.
1. Wearing wrong shoes. Proper shoes should provide balance, protection, comfort, support and safety. Investing in appropriate walking shoes can optimize your exercise results and increase the motivation to walk as you feel less tense or tired. Shoes that are torn-out, heavy, tight or not appropriate for the type of ground (pavement, sand, grass, etc.) should be avoided. Also take into account the duration of the walk and incline. While you can take a short walk on the beach barefoot, you might require a sturdier pair for a long walk in nature.
2. Not warming up and stretching. Warming up, stretching and cooling down should be part of the walking routine for safer and more effective results, particularly if you are not very active the rest of the day. The speed, intensity and duration should be build gradually and adjusted to your particular needs and goals. A few minutes of stretching your body and doing arm, hip and ankle circles can get the blood and oxygen flowing and facilitate lubrication of your joints.
3. Poor posture. Standing straight and tall and avoiding tension generated by misalignments is important for an effective and pain free walking exercise. Forward head position (turtle head or tech neck), hunched back, tight or curved shoulders are common mistakes. The head should be positioned above the body, not at an angle, and shoulders should be slightly down and back, but relaxed.
4. Incorrect technique. Overall technique is crucial for exercise effectiveness and avoiding tense muscles, injuries, and fatigue. However, many do not follow these steps for a correct walking technique: look straight as you walk, swing your arms in synchrony with your feet movement, engage your midsection and butt, touch the entire foot on the ground moving from heel to toes, extend your legs and maintain your hips flexible, keeping your knee soft when moving each leg forward.
5. Walking too slowly or too fast. Inappropriate speed and inconsistent stride with your body could affect your exercise and potentially cause back pain. Follow your natural and individual pace and build gradually. Walking too slow may render the exercise ineffective. You should feel warm and energized after your walk, not stiff and irritated.
6. Inappropriate clothing. Wearing excessive clothing may make you feel uncomfortable and hot. The body can easily warm up after a short walk or simple warm up exercises. Ideal clothing should be easily removable in layers, adjustable to environmental conditions, breathable and allow for sweat evaporation, keeping you cool and comfortable.
7. Improper breathing. Correct breathing is one of the most common factors ignored in walking. Breathing is critical for energy, relaxation and oxygenation. Paying attention to your breathing can add immediate and long term benefits to your exercise. Avoid these common mistakes to improve your results: interrupting your breathing or holding your breath (apnea), inhaling from your mouth, and breathing from your chest. A simple way to facilitate better breathing is to maintain a rhythm with your steps (1 step inhale, 1 step exhale; or, 1 step inhale, 2 steps exhale; and other variations). Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, and using your diaphragm instead of your chest to breathe will promote relaxation and improved health results.
8. Not staying hydrated. Drinking water and maintaining the body hydrated is key since the body is made of a large percentage of water. Replacing water by soda, coffee, tea or energy drinks might not provide the body with the necessary hydration as they affect fluid loss, absorption and digestion. Factors like level of intensity and perspiration, environmental factors (sun, temperature, humidity, etc.) and medication may further impact your hydration level. Drink water during walking exercise to keep you hydrated, prevent muscle cramping, lubricate your joints, protect your skin — and help you lose weight.
9. Not having a plan. Whether you are walking to stay fit, relax, improve your cardiovascular health, lose weight or control diabetes, it is important to set your goals and follow a plan. Without an exercise schedule, as well as stated goals and an overall strategy to monitor your progress in walking speed, endurance, aerobic capacity, walking distances, etc., combined with other health strategies (diet, nutrition, weight training) walking may not generate effective results, which may result in lack of confidence, motivation and commitment. Keeping a journal, using an app to track your progress or having a coach will help ensure progress, success and satisfaction out of your walking exercise.
10. Lack of awareness. From listening to your body to paying attention to your movement and surroundings, developing awareness can help you identify concerns and take corrective measures. Stay aware and mindful of your breathing, technique, tension, posture, stride and speed and notice how smalls shifts affect your performance, enjoyment and health results.