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Make Your Walk a Workout

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From first-time fitness walkers to road-tested walking fanatics, everyone wants to know how to make walking a better workout.

You’ve heard that walking can get you as fit as running can — or, for that matter, as any aerobic activity — with much less risk of injury. But the questions linger: How do you actually take it up another notch? Can you really double your calorie burn, or walk yourself into top condition? Some people wonder if they can ever walk fast enough to just break a sweat.

It’s as easy as this: You have to learn to walk — again. Technique is the key to improvement. Just apply these four easy steps, one at a time.

One: Get your posture in line
Especially for walkers just getting started

The benefits
Move with proper posture in mind for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, and youll improve your health and energy level and lengthen your life.

The basics
Stand tall from your ear to your ankle. Keep your chin up and level. Shoulders back. A tall body is more efficient and powerful, and less prone to walking discomfort.

Speed to strive for
At this level, walk at a comfortable pace, which for most people is 2.5 to 3.5 mph (thats about 17 to 24 minutes per mile; around 115 steps per minute). Calories burned in one hour: 200 to 300.

Cues
Keep your eyes on the horizon and your abdominals gently contracted. Think tall, but not stiff.

Avoid
A shelf-butt. This means keep your glutes in a straight line with the rest of your body. Dont let your rear lag behind. Keeping your abdominals pulled in should help.

Can you talk?
Yes, you should be able to carry on a normal conversation, though you might hear your breath as you do so.

Key to success
You should maintain a proper posture all of the time, not just while walking. Constantly think about standing tall and taking the slouch out of your back, whether youre carrying groceries, typing on the computer, or driving the car. Add regular abdominal strengtheners to your routinejust a few minutes worthto make this really stick.

Two: Speed up your steps
When you want to burn more calories

The benefits

Weight loss depends on burning calories. Crank up the speed and the pounds will fall off more quickly.

The basics
Turn up the metronome and take quicker steps. As you walk faster, the increase in your step rate (more steps per minute) is critical to maintaining a higher speed. Sure, your stride length increases too, but the key is quicker steps.

Speed to strive for
If you think about speeding up your steps, you will begin moving fast enough to burn a considerable number of calories: 3 to 4 mph (about 15 to 20 minutes per mile; around 125 steps per minute). Calories burned in one hour: 300 to 400.

Cues
As you step, put your front foot down quickly when your leg is under you rather than stretching it out in front of you. Count your steps for a minute (or count steps for 20 seconds and multiply by three). Write this number down. Over several weeks, try to speed up, and then count your steps again to see how youre doing.

Avoid
Overstriding. If you feel a jarring thunk with each heel strike, theres a good chance your stride is too long, which can slow you down and increase the risk of injury to your hamstring and gluteal muscles. (If you feel tightness in your hamstrings or glutes after a walk, you should try shortening your stride.)

Can you talk?
Yes, but you should be breathing noticeably harder than you would just strolling you'll be inclined to short statements, not, say, singing show tunes.

Key to success
While you shouldnt overstride, dont chop your steps short, either. Take this test to be sure you are striding right: Stand with both feet even. Lean forward until you nearly begin to fall, then allow yourself to naturally step forward to catch yourself. Where your foot lands is a natural stride for you, more under your body than in front of it.

Three: Get your arms involved
Make walking athletic

The benefits
A compact arm swing will make those quick steps quicker, allowing you to speed up without feeling like youre forcing it. It may take a little practice, but you will be building aerobic fitness and giving your upper body a workout, too.

The basics
Arm swing makes the difference between walking briskly and walking fast. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and swing your arms with a quick, compact motion.

Speed to strive for
You are heading into the aerobic range, 3.5 to 4.5 mph (about 13 to 17 minutes per mile; around 135 steps per minute). Calories burned in one hour: 350 to 500.

Cues
When moving your arms, your hands shouldnt go back behind the hip on the backswing or higher than the sternum on the upswing.

Avoid
Chicken-wing arms. Keep your elbows in close to your body. If you think your arms may be flailing out to the sides, then walk near a hedge or a wall. Bumping it with your elbows will remind you to hold them in.

Can you talk?
Now you should be breathing quite hard. But you should not be so out of breath that you cant even say hello to those you pass.

Key to success
Watch your arm-swing in a mirror as you walk in place. Once you can feel and see the proper waistband to sternum-height arc of the hands, put it to the test on the roads. To get a feel for how much it helps, alternate minutes or blocks where you walk with bent arms or straight arms.

Four: Feel an aggressive roll
The difference between merely fit and fast

The benefits
You have now reached genuine cardiovascular conditioning. This type of exercise is associated with the highest levels of health and weight loss.

The basics
Youll know youre really walking fast when you can make your foot roll smoothly from heel strike to toe-off. As your heel hits the ground, your toes will be high in the air. Roll through the step and push back forcefully as your toes leave the ground, propelling yourself forward. The hips should also drive subtly front to back (never side to side) on every step. Keep shoulders low and relaxed to aid in the forward propulsion.

Speed to strive for
You should be able to start chasing down some joggers 5 mph and above (12-minute miles or less; about 150 or more steps per minute). Calories burned in one hour: 550 or more.

Cues
At these speeds, everything has to feel efficient. You should glide along the ground, generating a lot of push back on the ground with every step from the hip all the way down to the toe. Think of it as if youre showing the bottom of your shoe to someone walking behind you.

Avoid
Toe slap. Instead of rolling through the front of your foot, you may hit with your heel and then your shoe just slaps down to the ground. As a result, your shins may feel tight or sore. The most common reason for toe slap is improper footwear: wearing running shoes instead of walking shoes. Walking shoes have a lower heel.

Can you talk?
You should be working so hard that you choose not to talk.

Key to success
Dont overthink it. You should be moving fast and efficiently, with a quick compact arm action and the highest possible stride rates. But if you feel youre going to break into a run, your arms and legs are probably driving upward, rather than forward. Slow down half a notch, and keep working in small but ever-lengthening bursts of speed.

In perfect step
Once you have pulled together all of the above techniques posture, quick steps, arm swing, and push-offyou are well on your way to being a super walker. Theres no doubt you are burning more calories, strengthening your heart and lungs, feeling stronger in other activities you partake in, and just feeling better overall.

You have learned to walk again — and you, and others, can see that you really are fit.

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