Outdoor classes are currently a huge trend that many anticipate are here to stay. Power walking can be an excellent cardiovascular activity to incorporate into your programming. It can be included as part of your outdoor circuit classes (or on a treadmill), taught as a class of its own, or instructed to your runner clients who take walking breaks and do not want to lose precious time. NBC news recently described walking as the “most underrated form of exercise.”
Walking provides mental, physical, cardiovascular, lymphatic, and mood enhancing health benefits. It can be used as a post injury/surgery/pregnancy low impact activity while you build up tolerance to higher loads. Why not amp it up? While it is not necessary to walk at Olympic race-walking speeds, there are certainly ways to increase speed and intensity. Here are a few tips:
1. Walk with runner arms.
As you increase your walking speed, straight arms will slow you down. Aim to bend your arms between 45° and 90° and drive your elbows back, maintaining the elbow bend. Avoid having the hands cross the midline of the body and keep hands soft.
2. Push off your toes.
Walking typically has us strike with our heels, roll through the foot, and push off the toes. Aim to accentuate the toe push off to help propel you forward. The toe push off may enable more optimal hip extension and fire your gluteus maximus – your primary hip extensors.
3. Take smaller steps (yes, smaller).
Often when clients are starting to walk faster, they take bigger steps. This can lead to over-striding, back discomfort, and altered gait mechanics. Aim to take short, quick steps and maintain your center of gravity over your center of mass (not behind it). Think of landing on a solid pillar with your ankle directly underneath you. As you perfect this technique, you can work on increasing stride length with increased speed.
4. Maintain tall posture.
Aim to align ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Walk tall but keep your ribs over your hips. Think of a long thoracic spine. Maintain this alignment and avoid breaking or leaning at the hips.
5. Add variety!
Add sprint intervals between light posts, add hill repeats for added challenge, try walking on varied terrain if it is stable, sneak in walking lunges for short distances, squat or calf raise at stop lights and try walking backwards if it is safe and clear (this can temporarily alleviate shin discomfort).
So, how do you always keep walkers of all levels within eyesight? Have the faster walkers circle back when they get far ahead. The fast group walks past the slower group and turns around to try and catch up. The faster groups double back more often, cover more mileage, but stay together as a group.
Power walking can be an effective cardiovascular exercise that’s low impact, functional, and invigorating! Remember to warm up and cool down with a slower walking pace and use benches, trees, or walls for stretching and support.