Whether you go for long hikes in the country or only ever make it as far as the fridge, it’s likely that the way you walk is nowhere near as effective or healthy as it could be.
Spending our working lives sat in front of computers or talking on the phones can make our shoulders rounded, so we walk too stiffly. We tend to put our foot down as one unit, rather than pushing off with our toes, so we bend our knees too much, putting greater pressure on them. We also walk slumped back into our hips, creating bad posture and back and neck pain.
How to improve your posture
Follow these tips for a healthier, more efficient technique.
1. Your Feet
With each step you take, put your heel down first and roll through each part of your foot to the point of your toes.
Soften the foot. Think of it becoming more pliable – like soft Plasticine – as you gently roll though it. Spread the foot; feel its breadth.
Think of your body as a canoe with your feet as the paddles. Pull them past your body, then push them behind you, just as you would pull and push the canoe through the water.
Become aware of your big, middle and little toes. Feel them with each step and push off evenly from all three. This encourages correct alignment all the way up through your foot, knee and hips, engaging the correct muscles in your bottom and back, increasing fitness and helping the knee joints stay healthy.
As your foot becomes more active, you’ll notice that your ankle joint moves more, too, with the front opening up as you walk. This will help lengthen your leg muscles, streamline your thighs and kick-start the contraction of the muscles in your bottom.
2. Your Hips
Lifting yourself out of your hips when you walk improves knee and hip alignment, reduces impact on your joints, tightens your lower abdominal muscles, trimming your torso, helps lift your bottom up and may reduce back pain.
Imagine a tray with two glasses of water, extending out of your hip bone. As you walk, try to lift the tray up out of your hips so the glasses remain full. At the same time, try to draw your stomach in and up.
3. Your Neck and Shoulders
As you walk, think about the distance between your ear lobes and shoulders and trying to increase it. Imagine you have two long, dangly earrings on and, with each step, try to make sure the earrings don’t touch your shoulders. Now imagine your shoulders gently falling away down your back and your neck lengthening. Try to relax: you shouldn’t be stiff or tense, so don’t force the movements but allow them to happen. Try to walk in a smooth rhythm.
Your back, neck and shoulders will become agile, you’ll get better shape in your chest and arms and you may start losing back fat.
4. Your Arms
Imagine a pendulum: try to envisage each arm moving smoothly forward and backward as you take each step. Introduce a slight bend in the elbow, draw it back then let it swing naturally forward again. Don’t keep your elbows low, ‘pump’ your arms or clench your fits.
The correct arm movement will open the front of your shoulders up and improve your posture, making you look slimmer and taller.
If you’re new to walking as a form of dedicated exercise, be sure to keep an eye on your pulse rate to ensure you aren’t overexerting yourself, especially in hot weather. It can also be beneficial to keep your body flexible as it can help loosen your joints and reduce stiffness.
Taken from Joanna Hall’s WalkActive Programme (Piatkus, £13.99). Details of other WalkActive books, training course and apps can be found at walkactive.com.