At SLJ we are clearly advocates of running and the many health and social benefits that it brings. However, we are also huge fans of, the sometimes overlooked, power walking. This is an area of cardiovascular exercise that can often be forgotten and dismissed as simply ‘going for a walk’ when; in reality it is a fantastic form of exercise that can benefit a huge number of people.
Walking, in its simplest form, is the best and easiest form of exercise available to us. From an early age we do it instinctively and, if we are fortunate, can continue to do so until the end of our lives. It is so obvious and so accessible that it can often be overlooked in favour of other forms of exercises.
Although it is an easy and inexpensive form of exercise, it doesn’t mean that we do enough of it. The downsides of using walking as your default exercise can often mean that it gets sidelined in place of using the car when life gets busy. Or we think a slow, short stroll every now and again is simply enough in order to keep fit and healthy. Life is busy and exercise guidelines confusing, so sometimes one needs assistance when incorporating it into one’s life.
To gain the greatest health benefits from walking, it is important to understand how to do it correctly and effectively. This is where power walking comes in. The speed that you walk is key; one must typically aim to walk at a speed of 4.5 – 5.5 mph in order to increase the heart rate and give the body an adequate workout. To put this in more straightforward terms, a person weighing 150lbs walking at a speed of 4.5 mph will burn approximately 429 calories an hour, so this is a really effective form of fat burning. If you wear a heart rate monitor, you should be aiming at a maximum heart rate (HR max) of around 60-80%. You can also use your breath as an indicator of how hard your heart is working. You should be able to still hold a conversation but also feel that your heart rate is increasing steadily and that your body is working harder than normal in order to maintain a fast walking speed. Do ensure that you never push yourself to the point where you feel dizzy or lightheaded.
How to Power Walk
· One should be mindful of posture, as this will encourage faster walking. Walk tall, look forward and ensure that shoulders are relaxed. Always tighten the abdominal muscles and buttocks in order to engage your core and support your lower back.
· Ensure that your arms are bent at slightly less than a 90-degree angle, swing your arms from front to back, not side to side making sure that your arms do not cross your body. Aim to get your arms and legs working at the same pace. By engaging your arms in this way you will activate your triceps (more commonly known as ‘bingo wings’!) so you are working on your arms at the same time.
· When looking at increasing your walking speed, resist the urge to stride, instead take smaller and quicker steps.
· Remember to use the whole of your foot. Push off using your toes and land on the heel of your foot, roll through and push from the toe. Feel how your calf muscles engage and help to move you forward.
· Be aware of your breathing as you walk. Take deep breaths in order to maximize the amount of oxygen moving through your system. Focus on increasing your breathing but do not get to the point where you are out of breath and unable to talk.
· Don’t forget to stretch gently after a power walking session. Just because you aren’t running or using gym equipment, doesn’t mean you can skip a cool down session. A proper cool down stretch will help to prevent injury.
· Keep hydrated – before, during and after a power walking session. Try not to overdo the water just before though!
If power walking is something that you would like to understand more about, then coming along to a pre-arranged group is a fantastic way to introduce yourself to this form of exercise. At SLJ we run power walking sessions 3 times a week and the sessions typically run for 1.5 hours. So it is a really flexible and easy way of fitting this beneficial form of exercise into your schedule.
*When pregnant, following birth or injury, please ensure that you speak to your GP or health professional before starting an exercise programme.