Walking is a natural and easy form of exercise. It is easier on the joints than running and can sometimes be more effective at strengthening the cardiorespiratory system than running or jogging. Although walking is easy, it does have the potential for injury. If proper precautions are not taken, walking can lead to injuries. A proper program will consist of stretching, strengthening, and training.
Lack of flexibility tends to be one of the most common causes of walker and runner injuries. For most adults as we age we become less flexible. This can be due to multiple reasons, but the one that sticks out is the lack of stretching. Some simple rules should be followed when stretching. You should stretch after you have warmed up for at least 3-5 minutes, cold muscles and tendons don’t stretch very well. Try to imagine an ice cold rubber band; if you pull on it, was is going to happen? You need to make sure that you are properly warmed up first before you stretch. Stretch to the point where you feel a little discomfort and then hold that stretch for about 20-30 seconds. Make sure not to bounce, this can lead to injury. Make sure to stretch each day or at least on the days you are going to be walking or jogging. Be sure to stretch after your walk or jog too!
- Calf muscles– To stretch this area, stand about an arms length back from the wall and place both hands on the wall. Place one foot forward, and put all your weight on the other foot (the one that is back). Make sure your toes are pointing straight ahead. Press the heel of your back foot down, and lift the big toe slightly to lock your arch. Then bend the knee of the leg that is in the front (remember it doesn’t’t have much weight on it) and let your hips shift toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the muscle on the back of your lower leg. Hold the stretch 30 seconds and repeat it at least twice each leg.
- Hamstrings– These muscles run from your buttocks to the back of your knee. The hamstrings play a role in nearly all knee problems and are also key in back injuries. Hamstring strains or pulls are very common and can be avoided by proper stretching. To stretch these, stand squarely facing a chair and place one heel up on the seat of the chair. Keep that knee very slightly bent and focus on keeping your back very erect and straight. Then pull the hips BACK but don’t let your shoulders round down. No need to reach for your toes here… just pull the buttocks back.
- Quadriceps– These muscles span the area on the front of your thigh from your hip to your knee. Stand facing a wall and rest your hand on the wall for balance. Lift one foot as if you were going to kick yourself in the buttocks and grasp the ankle with the same side hand. You should feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. To feel more of a stretch do not bend forward, instead push your knee towards the ground.
These are just a few leg stretches that you can do before you begin your walk or jog. Make sure you stretch the abs, as well as the inner thighs.
Walking programs don’t necessarily require a lot of strength training, but increasing your strength especially leg strength can go a long ways. Strength training for a walking or running program can play a key role in injury prevention. Exercises using your own body weight are usually adequate. The key to safe and effective strength training is proper form and range of motion. The saying” no pain no gain” is a myth, if you feel any pain, you should stop.
- The Squat– This exercise works the entire lower body and targets the essential muscles used for walking and or jogging so it’s a great exercise. Start by standing in front of a chair, position so that you are poised to sit in the chair. Your feet should be a shoulder’s width apart. Sit down slowly. Now return to a standing position. Next try to barely touch your buttocks on the chair without actually sitting down. If you can’t do this without knee pain or your balance seems to be pretty poor than, place two large telephone books on the seat of the chair to make a “booster seat”. Try touching your buttocks on the telephone books without actually sitting all the way down. Repeat this movement 10-15 times. After doing this successfully for a week or so, try removing one of the telephone books and continue to perform the exercise, now squatting to a lower depth. As your strength improves, you may well be able to remove the other telephone book. If this exercise still seems too hard even with the telephone books, then you might consider doing a wall squat with or without an exercise ball. If you are using the ball, place it against a flat wall and then place it in the small part of your back. Lean against the ball using it for balance. Once you are balancing against the ball set your feet shoulder width apart and a little bit out in front of you so that when you squat down your knees don’t roll over your toes. The last step is to gently slide down to a 90 degree angle if you can. Just let the ball roll against the wall. Once at the 90 degree position then slowly come back up. Try to do this 10-15 times. As you getter better, you can go a little lower or try picking up one foot as you go down. This form of the squat is a little easier on the back.
- The Lunge– The lunge is similar to the squat in the sense that it is a stability exercise. The lunge works the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings as well as the calves and abdominal muscles. The lunge tends to be a little more difficult then the squat, but can be made easier with the use of a chair or wall to balance with. Step forward with one leg and lower your upper body down, bending your leg (don’t step out too far). You should have about two to two and a half feet between your feet. Do not allow your knee to go forward beyond your toes as you come down, keeping your front shin perpendicular to the ground. Push up and back and repeat with the other leg or do all the reps with one leg then switch. It is very important to keep your upper body vertical. If you think about your back against a wall and trying to slide your back straight down the wall you will be able to keep your upper body vertical. The chair can be used to balance with as you perform the lunge, be sure not to lean on the chair.
- Calf Raise– This exercise may be performed on flat ground or on a block, curb or step. Position toes and balls of feet on a block, curb or step with arches and heels extending off. Raise heels by extending ankles as high as possible. Lower heels by bending ankles until calves are stretched. Perform 10-15 times, you may alternate legs or do both legs at the same time. If you have trouble balancing try using a chair or wall to balance one hand against.
Be sure to start of slow and progress your self over time. The biggest mistake walkers and joggers usually make when first starting a program is that they start off at a pace to quick to complete the entire distance. Mix up your workout by incorporating different distances, terrain, and speed. Build your distance and speed over time as the walk or jog becomes easier. Set goals each time you walk so you can progress over time.
Another training variable is your target heart rate. If you want to make sure you are working out at the appropriate level to increase cardiorespiratory endurance effectively then you need to make sure you are walking or jogging in your target heart rate zone. More information on the target heart rate zone can be found in the presentation titled “Finding Your Target Heart Rate”. You want to be as consistent as possible, with any exercise the better your consistency is, the better you will progress!