Walking is a great way to get more active and it helps you to stay healthy. Fitness walking almost burns as many calories as running, yet it is much softer on the joints, is easier and feels less intense. Walking for fitness is not the same as power walking, which involves exaggerated arm and leg movements. Luckily for us Sheffield residents, there are plenty of amazing views and countryside walks for us to appreciate to make walking a particularly fun activity which we can enjoy with friends, family or dogs! If you want to start taking walking more seriously and use it as a way to improve your fitness levels, we have a few tips that will help you reach your goals while avoiding injury.
1. Build up gradually
If you’re new to walking and you feel like your fitness levels are quite low, then start off slow. Start by doing a ten minute walk around the block every day and add five minutes to your walking routine each week until you feel confident enough for something a little more ambitious, such as a walk in The Peaks.
Don’t worry about speed in the beginning. Just focus on getting into the habit, walk at whatever pace feels comfortable for you.
2. Walk with good posture
When walking, keep your tummy and buttock muscles tight. Tucking in your tummy as you walk helps support your back and stabilises your middle. Stand up straight, with your shoulders relaxed and look ahead, not at the floor.
3. Do not over stride
Over striding can cause injury. If you feel the need to go faster do not stretch out your steps, just take more of them at a quicker pace. Your foot should hit the ground on the ball of your heel and roll forwards onto your toes. If you’re hitting the ground at the back of your heel, your strides are too long. It’s also important to avoid vigorous arm movements.
4. Breathe deeply at an even rate
To improve your fitness and get cardio vascular exercise, you need to be pushing yourself enough that you naturally breathe at an increased rate. However, if you get out of breath decrease your speed for a few minutes. Breathing deeply will help you do more vigorous exercise without getting out of puff quickly.
5. Wear the right shoes
To avoid stress on your joints and feet you need to be wearing comfortable shoes that have a good quality, shock absorbing sole. It goes without saying that walking in loafers, brogues or high heels is not the best for your feet. Proper walking shoes or trainers will be more suited and will help protect your body from the repeated impact of your foot hitting the ground. Make sure your shoes are ‘broken in’ before you go on a long walk to avoid blisters.
6. Add climbs
On a treadmill, walking or running with a 5-10% incline will do wonders for the muscles on the back side of your legs and bum. Walking on real terrain is even better. Sheffield residents will not have to look far for hills, whilst walking up them can be grueling, you’ll feel great when you get to the top, knowing that you’ve helped to strengthen and firm your muscles.
7. Be prepared
If you’re out on a long walk, make sure you have some supplies with you. Take a bottle of water and some protection from the weather, such as sun cream or a coat. A coat will probably be the more likely option! It’s a good idea to take your mobile phone and some change for a bus or taxi just in case you become injured or get very tired.
8. Make it fun
Walking with friends of family is ideal, but if you are out on your own take some music, audiobooks or a podcast to listen to. Perhaps you could take a camera and get some photographs, if you’re going somewhere beautiful. A small pair of binoculars might be nice if you’re into nature. Green spaces around Sheffield have a variety of birds, rodents and other wild animals. If you’re getting bored on walks, it’s less likely that you will stick with it long term.
9. Mix it up
Going out into the country side is a very rewarding and refreshing experience, but you don’t have to be in the country side for a fitness walk. You can fitness walk anywhere! You could walk to the shops or to work, or walk around your local park. For a change in terrain and scenery you could try doing the 5 weirs walk which begins in Sheffield city centre. It’s a flat 8 km walk which takes you round the cities old industrial buildings along the canals. There is a lot of nature around the canals and it takes you straight to Meadowhall, so you could reward yourself with some shopping and then get the tram back into town.
10. Do intense bursts intermittently
High intensity intermittent exercise (or HIIT) is something most gyms provide as a class on a stationary bicycle. It’s become such a fashionable form of exercise because intermittent intense short bursts of activity have shown to be almost as good for our fitness levels as prolonged activity. You can do HIIT without the gym class though; when walking, start at a gentle pace and add in ten minutes of walking at a more challenging pace, then go back to walking more comfortably. Keep doing this intermittently throughout your walk.
11. Warm up and cool down
Warming up and cooling down is not just for serious athletes. To avoid injury, you need to be sure that your muscles are flexible and ready to go. If your leg muscles are tight, putting your foot down on an uneven surface could cause a nasty strain.
Warming up will only take a couple of minutes. Begin by lifting your leg, point your toes and draw a circle with them by rotating your ankle. Then do a few leg swings by standing on one leg and stretching your leg to the front, side and back, tapping your toes on the ground at each point. Begin walking slowly, once you start to feel warm stop and do some gentle stretches. When stretching don’t over push yourself, stretch until you feel some light tension. Then start to increase your pace or incline.
Cooling down is important because it helps to stop us from feeling sore and achy after exercising. When your walk is coming to an end, walk at a slow pace and repeat your stretches.
12. Stick to your goals
Set a goal of how far you’d like to walk and if possible, plan your route. You may also wish to use a pedometer and set a goal for a specific amount of steps. 10,000 steps is ideal. Setting goals will help you push yourself that little bit harder. It’ll also help you build up your activity in an achievable way.