These Legs Were Made for Walking
Karyn Simmonds is not your ordinary athlete. The 40-year-old mother of one has completed three 100-mile runs, twelve 50-milers, 65 marathons, and countless 10Ks and 5Ks in the past 15 years. She trained for the endurance races, which are usually run on trails in mountainous terrain, by
50 to 70 miles per week and riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes four times per week—that is, until she
fractured a tibia
"After my stress fracture, my doctor advised me to walk, so I started walking hills," says Simmonds, who took a six-week hiatus from running in order to heal. "When I got back to training, I realized that I could walk hills faster than I could before. Actually, there was a time when I was power walking in a race past people who were running. I decided then to train for walking, too."
While many athletes view walking merely as a means of transportation, a way to get from here to there, what they do not realize is that it can actually be a complement to their vigorous training programs. A brisk walk increases oxygen intake, strengthens your heart, and helps lower blood pressure. Walking improves your state of mind and can help improve your appearance.
Walking offers other benefits, as well, like fewer injuries. Mainly it is because of the force with which you hit the ground when running versus when walking, says Mark Fenton, former editor of
magazine. While the impact force of running is roughly three times that of your body weight, the impact force of walking is just one and a half times your body weight—not a difference to sneeze at.
Better Running Times?
It is true that walking can improve your level of fitness and help reduce the amount of time you spend pounding the pavement (or grass or trail), taking the pressure off your joints. It can also help with your running times.
"There is an old saying in exercise physiology that if you mix training, you get mixed results," she says. "If you want to excel at running, you would want to stick to activities that closely mimic running, such as interval training and sprinting, so that you continue to develop that skill. Walking would fit in with that."
Simmonds can testify to that. She says that walking has not only increased her overall fitness, but it has also helped her race times. "There is a race I have done three times—the Quadruple Dipsy. It is 28.4 miles and goes up and over two mountains. The times I had walking in my training, I won the races and was significantly stronger than the time when I was only running (for training)."
Take a Walking Break
So if you are suffering from overuse injuries but do not want to forego exercising every day, try incorporating walking into your program. At the very most, you will improve your health, well-being, and race times. At the very least, you will give your knees (and hips and ankles) a much-needed break.
How to Make Walking a Workout
"National caliber race walkers routinely train at 7 mph or faster and get their heart rates up over 85% of max," says Mark Fenton, a five-time national race walking team member. "With a normal walking gait, without any technique modification, you cannot get above about 60% to 65% of max because most people top out at about 4.5 miles per hour."
In other words, if you want to walk at speeds high enough to get a great workout, you need to work on your form. Follow these four tips, and you will be on your way:
- Maintain an upright posture. Do not lean forward at the waist. Look forward, not down at the ground.
Take quicker strides, not longer ones. To make it a real workout, you have to stride between 140 to 150 steps per minute.
Try counting steps for 20 seconds. You should be doing about 50 steps in that period.
- Bend your arms. Use a compact and quick arm swing. Hands should trace an arc from your waistband at the back to chest height in front. (Taking a longer arm swing will actually make you take slower steps.)
- Push off your toes. At the end of each stride, aggressively push off the ground with your toes.
At your local track, jog along at a slow pace around the turn. When you get to the straight-away, break into a fast walk, trying to stay at the same pace as your jogging. When you get to the turn, jog again.
Do two to three laps. Next time out, make it four laps. Build up to six laps.
When you feel comfortable doing six laps, start to extend the drill to an entire lap of walking for every half-lap of jogging. Build up to the point (over a couple of weeks) where you can do 6-8 laps of that. When you feel comfortable, move up to walking an entire half-mile or mile at a time at a brisk tempo. This could take as long as 5-6 weeks.
Start at one end of the track. For 10 seconds, walk with the shortest, quickest steps you can take. Try to take 3-4 steps in one second, which would put you at 180 steps per minute. If you can do this, then getting to 150 steps per minute (the goal set in the Straight-away) will not seem that extreme. Rest for a minute, then repeat a half-dozen times. The goal here is to be able to go a half-mile or a mile at a time at 150 steps per minute.
American Nordic Walking Association
International Association of Athletics Federations
Exercise walking. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons OrthoInfo website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00419. Updated July 2011. Accessed January 22, 2013.
Racewalk website. Available at:
Accessed January 22, 2013.
Why walking will help improve your running. You 2 can run website. Available at: http://www.you2canrun.com/1/post/2012/02/why-walking-will-help-improve-your-running.html. Updated February 2, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2013.