Elisabeth Clare, Founder & Director of MBST UK, shares insight on how to perfect your walking technique to get the maximum health benefits
There are lots of different forms of exercise that help to strengthen muscles, support bone health and improve cardiovascular fitness. But there’s one form of exercise that offers a multitude of benefits without any price tag at all; walking.
For many, a simple stroll is one of life’s pleasures, but walking is also a brilliant form of cardiovascular fitness that is easier on the joints than high-intensity exercises such as running or HIIT workouts.
It boosts energy, strengthens the heart muscles, lightens your mood, and it can also help to ensure that you are maintaining a healthy body weight.
But did you know that there is actually a ‘correct’ way to walk, and to maximise the health benefits of your daily steps or weekend stroll? From frequency and stride, to what to do with your arms, here’s how to optimise the world’s easiest fitness fix and reap the rewards.
Look straight ahead
It may sound simple but when you are walking always look straight ahead. Focus on where you are going (yes that includes not looking at your mobile phone!) as looking straight ahead will help you to keep your balance. If you are feeling unsteady, walking a little faster with a slightly longer stride length may help you to feel steadier on your feet.
Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed and walk tall
To ensure that you have the correct position, push your shoulders up to your ears, roll them back, and then drop them down, this is where your shoulders should be as you walk. Keeping your shoulders away from your ears will also help to reduce upper-body tension and muscle soreness, particularly across your upper back and neck. And don’t lead with your nose or you’ll find you’re walking with a stoop.
Engage your core
Engaging your core not only helps you to walk taller, but will also help to protect your spine. The easiest way to ensure that you are doing this is by imagining that you are pulling your belly button in towards your spine. However, do make sure you keep breathing as you contract your abs. Don’t suck in your stomach and stop breathing!
Use your bottom!
When you are walking on an incline let your glutes push you up the hill as these are large muscles that are often underutilised. To put this into action follow these simple rules; take a step forward and focus on landing on your heel, pushing through to the ball of your foot and up. When you make contact with the ground, squeeze your glutes to help propel yourself forward. It takes a little practice but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be away with a powerful and healthy walking technique.
No, we’re not joking! Walking backwards engages the glutes even more effectively than walking forwards. You only need to do it for a 50yards or so….then resort to walking forwards. This will ‘pre-engage’ the glutes (gluteus maximus) so they are more likely to engage when walking forwards. The same can be said of walking sideways, which pre-engages the gluteus medius.
Let your arms swing
Another way to help keep tension out of your shoulders when you are walking is to let them swing forwards and back rather than across your body (again keeping you tall rather than falling forward). Arm swinging doesn’t have to be excessive, but must be enough to keep you in a steady rhythm.
Finding and maintaining the right stride length is key to maximising your walk. A good stride length will also mean you are not only using your body’s energy efficiently, but you are also helping to keep yourself injury-free. There is no technical right or wrong when it comes to stride length but it should feel comfortable and natural to you and not feel too long or short or you could be compromising the rest of your stance.
Your feet are the foundation of your body and poor footwear can have a detrimental impact on your knees, hips and spine. If you know that you will be walking for sustained periods of time, choose a shoe that pads and contours your foot but also fits snugly around the heel providing stability and helping you to walk properly.
There is simple pleasure in taking a good walk, both physically and mentally, so ensure you get to enjoy it. Listen to your favourite podcast or music, or try practicing mindfulness to really be present in the moment. And think about where you walk, as this can really influence how much you actually enjoy it and put the right energy into it. For example, think about the environment surrounding you; next to a busy road verses a quiet park or woodland area, what makes you feel good? Combining physical and mental health tips together can really help to get the best out of ourselves and our walks.
Consult a physiotherapist
If you experience any persistent joint pain when walking, consult a physiotherapist and/or podiatrist to address any misalignment or muscle weakness. A physiotherapist can help to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide range of injuries or mobility problems that may worsen as a result of walking. Seeking appropriate physiotherapy treatment can help to repair damage, reduce stiffness and pain, increase mobility and best of all, improve your quality of life.
A poor walk can have huge implications on your body, so getting it right can really set you up for a healthier, happier life.
Not only is walking totally free, but it is one of the simplest and best ways to invest in long-term health. By taking a daily walk, and employing the correct ways of walking, your muscles, joints and skeleton can all benefit, along with your general fitness and wellbeing.
MBST is a pioneering, non-invasive medical therapy that has helped people to walk again after injuries or debilitating musculoskeletal conditions, come off painkillers after years of suffering and even dance at their wedding after never thinking this was possible.