Get Started With Fitness Walking
Walking can be a great way to get or stay in shape.
When done correctly, it exercises just about your entire body, should be low impact, combines cardio with strength and flexibility training, and gets you some fresh air and sunshine (hopefully). But like any exercise program, it does require some dedicated effort and consistency to get the desired results.
You’ve seen them. People strolling down the sidewalk in full workout regalia, talking on the cell phone, maybe pulling a dog on a leash or pushing a baby stroller. This is nice. It is a pleasant diversion. It’s much better than sitting in a chair.
What it is not, is exercise. For the purpose of this article, exercise must raise your heart rate and cardiovascular system for a minimum of 20 minutes. It needs to utilize and stress one or more muscle groups. And finally, it needs to be done a minimum of three times a week.
If you are one of those people who likes to go out for a walk with your phone, baby, and/or dog, that’s great. You already have a start. You can skip ahead, but don’t. There is still some good information that, although addressed to the beginner, can be useful to anyone who wants to walk for fitness.?
If you haven’t walked at all, you need to do the hardest part of any exercise regimen. You have to get started. Like any good program, planning is important.
As stated earlier, one of the key elements to an exercise program is consistency. So the first part of your plan is to choose when you will walk. Many people like to go first thing in the morning before other obligations get in the way.
Others will go out and walk during lunch to get a break and clear their minds in the middle of the day. Still others do their walk when they get home from work as a transition between their workday and their home life. It doesn’t matter when you go, but it does matter that you go, so pick a time you can stick with.
The next part of the planning concerns clothing. Depending on where you live and the season, you may need to prepare for a variety of weather conditions. You don’t want to walk if it is dangerous to do so, such as too hot, too cold, or there is lightning present.
On the other hand, you don’t want to start using the weather as an excuse. Make sure you have clothing that will protect you from the elements, let allow you to walk comfortably without getting too hot.
You don’t need to blow a bunch of money on pricey and stylish walking gear - unless you just want to! If it is winter, keep track of what the temperature and other conditions are, what you wear and how it feels each day. When starting out, you will have a tendency to dress too warmly.
The article of clothing that does require some thought are your shoes. These need to be made for walking or running, provide a good fit, and give you adequate support.
This is where you could use some expert advice from a local sports equipment store. Go in, talk to someone about your plans, and most importantly, try on a variety of shoes.
If it comes down to a couple of pairs and you can’t decide, one trick is to put one of each of your feet at the same time and walk around the store. This will usually make your choice for you. If it still doesn’t matter, get the cheapest pair.
Okay, you have good shoes and you are dressed for the elements. Ready to get started? Many people like to go through a stretching routine before they head out.
Unless you have a specific problem that needs attention, it would be better to use the first few minutes as your stretching and warm-up. Start out at a leisurely stroll, gently swinging your arms and walking at a comfortable pace.
Keep this up for five to ten minutes until your heart rate and breathing pick up a bit before getting into your fitness walking pace.
This is where the workout begins. You need to push yourself, but not overdo it. This is a fine line and a balancing act, and one that requires a bit of focus and attention. Start walking much faster than you normally would. Not quite a run, but as if you are in a great hurry.
You want to feel a little bit of a stretch in your quadriceps (front of your thighs), your hamstrings (back of your thighs), and your calves. You don’t want to feel any pain or discomfort in the front part of your lower legs. If you do, that’s an indication to slow down, especially downhill.
At the same time, use an exaggerated arm swing. You don’t need to go crazy and you don’t want to strain your shoulders or elbows. Just pick up the pace of your arms to keep pace with the new walking pace and swing them up and back a bit more than normal. This not only will get your cardio and heart rate up a bit more, it will help tone your biceps and triceps (front and back of your upper arms).
Focus on your pace and arm swing throughout the walk until you are ready to cool down, so that you maintain the level of workout throughout. It’s easy to lose focus and slow down but don’t.
Once you are through with the walk, don’t just stop and sit down or hit the showers. You have pushed your muscles, whether you feel it now or not.
Drop down to your warm-up pace and take a leisurely walk for at least five minutes. Allow your muscles to relax, and your heart rate and breathing to get back to normal. During this time you should also replenish your water.
How long should all this take? Like many questions, the answer to that is, it depends. Had you been walking before?
What is your general level of fitness? If you are just starting out, then try to maintain the workout portion of the walk for 15 to 20 minutes if you can. If that’s too much, work up to that level over the first couple of weeks. As your fitness increases, don’t rest on your laurels.
Increase the distance first as time allows and then the pace. Once you have maxed out the allowable time (45 minutes is a good target), and you are walking as fast as you can without strain, get a couple of light dumbbells and carry those with you. This will increase the intensity of the workout and continue toning up your arms.
For a great weight-reducing workout that increases your fitness level and muscle tone, while clearing the mind and getting fresh air, fitness walking is the way to go.