Walk your way to slimmer, stronger legs
Maximize your toning and weight-loss efforts—and get trimmer, stronger-looking legs—with a regular walking routine. Here's how to do it, indoors or out
You already know that walking improves the muscle tone in your lower body and uses up calories—a 45-minute brisk walk burns 270 calories (based on a 150-lb. woman). You also know it’s safe, low-impact and easily incorporated into your everyday routine, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking per day to get in shape. Did you realize, though, that the way you walk—your gait—is key? It’s important for both your balance and stability as you move (therefore helping to keep you injury-free), and good form provides maximum power for minimum effort. Combine the right way of walking with good posture and you’ll also look slimmer. Here’s how.
Best way to hold your body
The key to avoid wasting energy and to maintain your balance is to hold your body upright but relaxed. Leaning too far forward or back while walking can place unnecessary strain on your hips, knees and spine.
Best way to take steps
When you take a step forward, you should naturally land on the outer edge of your heel, rather than flat on the ground. Your foot then rolls inward so that the inner edge of the sole takes more of your body weight. This inward roll—called pronation—absorbs shock and helps you to balance. Without proper pronation, the foot and ankle have problems stabilizing the body. Experts estimate that well over half of the population either under- or over-pronates.
Best ways to get benefits
• Watch stride length
When walking for fitness at a faster pace than normal, a common mistake is to place the front foot too far ahead. This can lead to jarred ankles and knees, and can cause pain along the muscles at the front of the shins. Focus on taking shorter but quicker steps. The power you generate while walking comes from your back leg, so concentrate on pushing off with your back leg and foot with each step.
• Increase difficulty
If you are already an avid walker, you may want to try longer distances. But you don’t necessarily need to walk farther or faster to work your muscles harder—walking up hills or on soft surfaces, such as sand, increases the work that your muscles must do.
• Try it with poles
Nordic walking also ups the intensity. This popular exercise, developed in Scandinavia, involves holding on to two walking poles. As you stride forward with your left foot, you move the right pole forward, and vice versa. The poles encourage you to safely increase the length of your stride so you can burn more calories than during normal walking, and the swinging arm and torso motion means you get more of an upper body workout. These poles can also help reduce the load on your knees and hips.
• Count steps
A great way to stay motivated is to use a pedometer. The ideal number of steps, according to heart experts, is 10,000 (about eight kilometres) a day.
4 steps to using a treadmill
Prefer to do your walking indoors? Get started with this easy-to-follow advice:
1. Stand on the treadmill with your head and chin up and your chest lifted. You can touch the rails for balance, but do not grip them.
2. Start the machine slowly. As you walk, roll your foot from heel to ball and push up with your toes as you swing your other leg forward. Keep your arms slightly bent and swing them naturally.
3. Gradually increase the speed. You should breathe a little harder, but not so hard that you can’t hold a conversation. If you need to hold on to the rails, you are probably working too hard. Depending on your fitness level, walk briskly for 30 to 60 minutes.
4. At the end of your session, slowly decrease your speed until you reach a gentle walking pace. Cool down at this speed for about five minutes.
This article was originally titled "Walk Right This Way," in the March/April 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.