7 ways to get more out of your walks
Did you get active during the pandemic lockdown? Some advice on taking your walk to the next level
Many people were out walking during the COVID-19 lockdown — with gyms closed and people laid off or working from home, it was one way to escape the house and shake off the feeling of being cooped up, even if you did have to stay two metres away from anyone you met doing the same thing.
Whether you are walking for fitness or just to enjoy nature, there are a few simple ways to get more out of your stroll, should you so desire.
CBC News spoke with Stephanie Knickle, a certified group and personal trainer and owner and instructor with imotion fitness, and Danika Atchia, a kinesiologist with ReActive Health who just started a walking group in Stratford, P.E.I., funded by Go! P.E.I.
That non-profit initiative, whose mission is building a more physically-active culture on P.E.I., is moving back to in-person programs after taking programming online during the lockdown.
Small goals to start
"My suggestion when people ask 'Where do I start?' is to always start with smaller, doable times and days so that your body can adjust to the strains and stresses of walking," Knickle says.
For instance, if your goal is 30 minutes of walking per day, count that 10-minute walk across campus or to the cafe on your lunch break — then you're already part-way there.
Both trainers say walkers must get good supportive walking shoes — not running shoes — which is key for supporting feet and ankles, and in turn all the muscles and connective tissue that move up the leg to the hips and back.
Warm up, stretch down
Even for walking, Knickle advises a warmup period — simply walk more slowly and using a smaller range of motion before stepping up the pace.
"I would suggest for a 30-minute walk that three to four minutes should be at a relaxed, easy pace before you pick it up," she said.
Stretching is not necessary at the beginning of a walk, she maintains, but is essential at the end.
"Hold stretches usually 20-30 seconds to get the full benefit. Mainly the lower leg, calf and shin muscles plus the sides of the butt/hips should be stretched out after a long walk," Knickle said. "These abductor muscles help stabilize the hips and prevent you from falling sideways."
She also stretches her chest muscles and front of her shoulder area when she walks or runs.
"Many people tend to overuse these muscles when swinging the arms and with our forward/hunched positions at desks and over phones, they can always use a good stretch," she said.
Atchia's top tip is simple: to pack more fitness into your walk, either walk faster or for a longer time period.
Knickle agrees, and points out keeping steps short and small but increasing the speed of those smaller steps will increase intensity.
"Too large a stride can lead to injury over time if there's not much flexibility in the hips," she said.
Music can help keep intensity on track too, Knickle said.
"Music with beats per minute of about 120-130 is a great tempo for walkers. Trying to step to the beat is the goal," she said.
Take up arms
Both trainers say swinging your arms when you walk will increase your whole body workout and better engage your core or middle muscles.
Atchia suggests walkers use walking sticks or poles if they wish. Walkers can use them in different ways: either to add stability or to increase intensity, by using the poles to help propel them forward.
"That helps you push, on top of the push you give with your foot," Atchia said. "That helps you use your arms too."
Adding arm exercises requires a little more co-ordination, Knickle said, so she advises it for more advanced walkers.
"Punching arms overhead, or doing lateral raises, or punching one arm forward at a time can help increase your heart rate too because your heart has to pump blood to those arms," Knickle said.
Her tip: swinging gently with arms about 90 degrees bent is great, and not allowing the arms to cross in front of the body.
"Did you know that the tempo of your arm swing will determine your step tempo? Try it!" Knickle advised.
Change of scenery
Changing the terrain/route is a great way to increase intensity, Knickle said.
"Adding hills both uphill and downhill are great ways to challenge the muscles in the legs more. Bigger muscles working equals more effort," she said.
What about weights?
Holding weights or adding weighted belts to your ankles to get a more intense walking workout is not recommended, both trainers stressed.
"Weights act as sort of a pendulum and put additional strain and pull on the shoulders and hips," Knickle said.
If you want to add weights, she suggests adding it to your torso/core using a weighted kit bag or fanny pack, and add weights incrementally.
"Even an additional five pounds will make a difference. Change it up every one to two weeks once your body is used to the additional weight," she said.
The buddy system
Walking with friends or people in a group will keep you keeping up with them as you enjoy the company of others, Atchia said — you won't focus on the work you're doing.
You might be motivated to pick up the pace, it's a safe environment to try new things, and making a plan with others keeps you accountable to simply show up.