The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 1, 2001

Get more zip out of your walks
By Amar Jit

WALKING is undoubtedly the best and the easiest exercise for most individuals. Moreover, all you need is a pair of good walking shoes to help you walk in any terrain or weather.

Many people who walk are not aware of ways to put a little more punch into their regimen. You should get more out of your walk in terms of speed, power, stamina and relaxation. But how?Here are a few tips to help you to get the optimum out of your daily walk.

Find out your proper stride length. Roshan, 35, a marketing executive, has been a regular walker for almost ten years now. Wherever he may be, either on tour or in his home-town Jalandhar, he makes it a point to go for a walk every morning and evening.

"I feel uneasy when I notice people who try to walk fast by taking exaggerated steps, "observes Roshan." They tire too quickly."

He adds that in order to get more out of a walk, a walker must discover his natural stride length.


To do this you must stand, lean forward at the ankle (like a ski-jumper in mid-air), let yourself fall forward and then balance yourself by extending one leg. This, i.e. the distance between your feet, is your natural stride length.

People who take exaggerated steps (i.e. long strides) step too far out. As a result they begin to lean backwards. They walk in one direction while they lean in the opposite one. This proves counterproductive.

Therefore, while walking keep to your natural stride. In fact, you will enjoy your walk more if you take more steps using your natural stride than take fewer exaggerated ones.

Bend your arms. Balwant, an ace walker from Rohtak, seems to be in his forties, whereas he is in his early sixties. He attributes his physical and mental fitness to his 5-km walk in the morning and another 3-km walk in the evening.

Balwant feels that what helps a walker progress from covering 1 km in 15 minutes to covering it in 13, 12 or 11 minutes is the bent-arm swing technique. "The long, extended arm impedes a walker from going faster," says Balwant.

He is right. Arms and legs have natural swings that correspond to each other. Thus if the arm is extended it acts as a long pendulum that swings more slowly and holds you back.

You can test this yourself. Walk briskly with your arm bent at the elbow (at a right angle), swinging back and forth. After a few minutes, deliberately extend your arms. As you do so, you will feel lighter. Extend and swing your arms for a few minutes then bent them at the elbow again. You will find you can walk faster. On the forward swing your arms should cross your body slightly. On the backswing, the hand should go back no farther than the centre of your hip.

Make your hips and torso more flexible
According Bob Carlson, a race walker "As they grow older most people lose the hips and torso flexibility they were born with. And the rigidity there interferes with efficient walking."

Therefore, Bob recommends, you should strengthen your knees so that the body rides on the bones, not on the muscles. "This pushes the leg up into the hip socket and promotes flexibility in the hip area."

Now point your feet straight ahead and put one directly in front of the other as tight-rope-walkers do. This will help rotate the hips horizontally around the spinal column, another area which is inflexible.

Further, doing windmills (i.e. rotating the arms backwards as in the backstroke) helps create flexibility in the upper body. Stretching exercises for the hips and waist can also help.

Relax your upper body. It is important to keep your shoulders straight when you swing your arms. If you hunch your shoulders in an effort to go faster, the muscles in your chest, shoulders and the back of your neck become tense.

That does the exact opposite of producing the relaxing effect that walking can bring. And it does not make you go faster either. Therefore, Balwant says: "You’ll have to continuously remind yourself, ‘drop those shoulders’, until it becomes second nature."

Use the midriff for more muscle power. To walk with more power, better balance and posture, imagine that your legs begin two inches above your navel. In a sense they do.

The midriff (or the psoas) muscles located just below the rib cage are attached to the lower spine, the pelvis and the femur bone in the thigh. They act as a bridge between your upper and lower body.

By sensing that the action of your legs really begins with the midriff, you will develop a fluid, gliding, walking style. Anil Dhingra, a Delhi-based physiotherapist, and an avid walker advises a walker to let his hips swing freely as he walks. This will give him a more powerful stride as he will be using more muscle power. "I’ve found this single tip to have the greatest impact on people’s ability to walk with power and grace," observes Anil.

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