Walking for Fitness – Proper form can help you lose weight

Have you noticed your face glow after a good cardio workout ? Fitness professionals tell us, that the best facial before a party is not in the beauty salon, but in your high-intensity cardio workouts ! Try it and see your moods soar too! Tweet this : http://wp.me/p5pXA6-8K and spread awareness.

Walking is a primal pattern. Is that why it is the simplest way to shedding some weight? Could be. To lose weight and then keep it at bay, we all need to keep moving.

At a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes or with a brisk walk, our bodies can burn stored fat, build muscle and speed up metabolism. Can cut the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke. Add to it the benefit of feel-good-after-a-fitness-walk factor.

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I prefer outdoor walking to walking on the treadmill, in a gym. Fresh air, luxury of space and nature, and the opportunity to be with yourself is rejuvenating. Yes, practice enjoying your own company, it clears your head! On a lighter note, “if you don’t like being by yourself, then you are in bad company”!

Being with yourself

Being with yourself ( image borrowed from internet )

I enjoy walking by myself, if I have to do it as an exercise. Allow me to list the plusses of walking alone down the line. But if you need to get the best out of walking, as a cardio-vascular exercise, here is how:

Priority #1: Choose Appropriate Shoes

Your feet have to last you your lifetime, give them all the care you can. There is no ‘one’ best shoe for all walkers. If your eyebrows have risen even as you are reading this, then its time to get your stride analysed. Visit a sports-medicine doctor or a reputed sports store, they will guide you on buying shoes that suit you best, in terms of proper support, flexibility and cushioning. If you have foot-pronation issues, they will suggest shoes that can compensate for the stride problems.

If you are a fast walker, find out if you need walking shoes or running shoes. Click here to know more.

Walking vs Running shoes for demonstration purposes only ( borrowed from internet )

Walking vs Running shoes for demonstration purposes only ( borrowed from internet )

Priority #2: Choose a good venue/walking track for your fitness walk

When I say “good venue”, I mean a nice long stretch of mud road or macadamized road. Walking in the sand is only for the strong-legged and those in advanced stages of fitness. If your walking track is a short one, like those in small parks, you will, most likely, get bored or run out of patience doing several-several rounds.

Fitness walkers can lose weight, improve their aerobic conditioning by building their speed, and following a variety-program of interval and endurance workouts. You can bid good-bye to fat and other health risks, with moderate to vigorous intensity walks.To achieve the above, you need a walking track that can afford you space and distance.

Boat Club road in Chennai is my comfort zone, but I push MY comfort zone by altering and modifying the intensity of my walks every other day. A 6.0 km distance covered in 60 minutes, modified periodically.

Priority #3 : Warm – up and Stretching

Make sure your clothing is comfortable and shoe laces tied firmly. Wait , getting off your motor-bike, or out of your car and plunging straight into brisk fitness walking is a no-no. You would want to wake your muscles up and let them know they are going to be active for a while.

Warm up for 5-7 minutes with an easy-paced walk. Why warm up ? Because if you  start walking straight away at a high-speed, your cells do not get the signal that it is going to be a long-term activity. Instead of pulling fat out of storage, they burn up sugars only, in order to meet the energy needs.

Stretching is to improve your flexibility, avoid injuries and make your walking comfortable. Warm-up and flexibility in that order. If you stretch cold muscles, you are likely to hurt them. Start with stretches for the top of your body and work your way down. Here are two links to stretching, before your fitness walk. Follow the ones that are suitable, depending on the venue of your walking workout.

http://walking.about.com/video/5-Stretches-for-Walkers.htm

http://walking.about.com/od/stretching/ss/warmupstretches.htm#step1

Now that you are in motion, lets look at Form/Posture and Technique.

Priority #4 : Form and Posture 

Not all of us are gifted with good gaits and not many really concern themselves with a good walking posture. If you are one of those, now is the time to correct it perhaps? Look at the benefits of a good walking posture. Your posture, your foot motion, your stride and your arm-swing motion go a long way, in making your fitness walk efficient and effective. Helping you breathe deeper, relax your shoulder and neck muscles and avoid back pain. You can use the same walking technique, whether you are walking outdoors, or on the treadmill (read my earlier article Why Not To Bounce On A Treadmill). Your gait speaks a lot about you. Correct it and flaunt it! So……

Walking posture ( image borrowed from internet )

Walking posture (image borrowed from internet)

  • Hold yourself erect, without arching your back.
  • Do not lean backward or forward. By doing so, you are only straining your muscles and additionally losing power in your walk.
  • Keep your eyes looking forward, not down, rather 20 feet ahead.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the ground. Be kind to your neck and upper back muscles.
  • Keep turning your head to your left and right, now and then, to avoid stiffness in the neck.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed, do not round them.
  • Tuck your stomach in and hold without straining to breathe. This will help maintain normal back curvature.
  • Arm motion can lend power to your walking, burning 5-10% more calories and can lend balance to your leg-motion.
  • You have two options : a) let them hang loosely and swing them as you start walking (that’s easy and hence no image provided),  b) bend your elbows at 90 degrees and swing them back and forth.
Proper arm motion

Proper arm motion

  • In both cases, keep your fists in a soft closed curl, never clenched. Clenching can raise your blood pressure.
  • With each step, swing your arms back and forth, in a straight line and not diagonally. Correct your arm stance, over a few days, if you have to.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body. No chicken-winging.
  • The forward hand should go only as high as your breast-bone.
  • If you are in the process of correcting your arm-motion, you may find it tiring at first. Rest the hands for a while and resume. The benefits are long-term!

Priority #5: Watch Your Step 

Actually, this should be priority #1. I would say, watch your step (pun intended !) everywhere, at home, at work, at play, in the gym, at parties, at a trek, literally everywhere. Because every time we take a step, we are exerting a certain kind and amount of pressure on our feet, and it better not be wrong !

Roll of the walking step

Roll of the walking step

  • At your fitness walk, your step needs to be a rolling motion.
  • Strike the ground with your heel first.
  • Let your foot roll through the step, from heel to toe.
  • Push off with your toe.
  • Bring the back leg forward and strike the ground , heel first and carry on.

If you want this motion to be smooth, remember priority #1, i.e., good flexible shoes ! If your strides are not in keeping with this technique, a bit of practice will help. Again, benefits are long – term ! Try this technique, your speed will  increase proportionately. I am a light and brisk walker myself already and it has helped me, in effortlessly increasing my speed.

Now, this is why I suggest you walk by yourself,  if your fitness walk is to yield results. No I am not anti-social, neither am I asking you to be. Lets socialise  after the walk ? This one hour or more is dedicated to doing good to my body and I demand 100% from it. Engaging in conversation or laughter, takes away your energy and focus from your body, posture going for a toss ! Instead, plug on your headphones and listen to some music, stay with your thoughts.

An imp tip: Practice being light-footed. Horses, deer and other animals can sprint, because they are light on their feet ! Those that walk with a heavy step tire easily and lose out on speed.

 Priority #6 : Cool It Off 

So you have now come to the last lap of your fitness walk, assuming you have walked enough, to fetch you cardio-vascular benefits. Slow down your pace to an easy one, for the final 5-7 minutes, letting your body cool down and your heart-beat being back to normal. Do not forget to repeat a few stretches, before you hop on to your bike, or into your car.

Now that we have the form and technique in order, a few useful tips :

Over-striding is counter-productive :

Overstride in a walk ( image borrowed from racewalk.com )

Over-stride in a walk ( image borrowed from racewalk.com )

The key to a good walking stride, is to avoid over-striding. Some people take long strides, in order to burn more calories and increase speed. Doesn’t work that way, Over-striding is inefficient, and can harm your back and leg muscles.

Instead, take smaller steps. Your focus should be on the stride behind your body, on the back leg, where your toes push-off the ground. Your forward leg has no power, its your back leg that is propelling you forward. Do you agree ? Ask fast walkers and marathon runners, they will tell you that they train to increase the number of steps, rather than lengthen their stride.

Speed or Distance ? Answer is distance, if you want to burn calories effectively.

Did you know that speed matters less? Its your weight and the distance you cover, that determines the quality of your fitness walk.

The best way to burn more calories : simply walk further. Concentrate on building distance rather than speed in your fitness walk in the beginning. Build more time and distance into your walk gradually, till you can walk 30-60 minutes at a time. Aim to walk thus 5 or 6 times a week. If you can achieve the speed of walking a mile in 13 minutes or less, you will burn more calories per mile.

Most efficient walking is achieved at moderate speeds. It’s true that at higher walking speeds, you burn more calories. As you advance in your fitness levels you could increase your speed, but without compromising on your form. When you walk at higher speeds, you put more muscle groups into work due to your arm motion and race-walking stride.

Brisk walking :

Moderate speed is translated to as brisk walking. It’s also called a ‘fat-burning’ or ‘determined’ pace.

At this rate, your breathing could be a tad harder, but yet you should be able to carry on a conversation in full sentences. This is just a guideline, no indicator that you should walk and talk. No! Or, it should feel like you are 10 minutes late, for an important appointment. At this speed for 30 minutes, you will start dipping into your stored fat.

The Rule of Thumb for brisk walking : The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes brisk walking, as covering about five kms per hour, or 12 minutes per kms. However, fitter people are likely to cover 6.5 kms per hour.

You can use this walking pace calculator to find your walking pace, by entering your distance walked (miles or kms) and time, to get results in minutes per mile, or minutes per kilometre . Or, you could use the various apps and walking speedometers, if you want to track your pace and progress.

Please do consult your doctor if you have any health issues, before embarking on brisk walking. And consider your age, to determine how strenuous your walking workout can be.

If your walking workout leaves you feeling sore, or worn out the next day, take a day off. Rest the body and resume.

Add Speed Intervals :

There are innumerable ways of adding intensity to your fitness walk. These variations, will not only make your walk more effective, but will also keep you alert, and add variety, making your walk more interesting. Interval training, can be incorporated into your walks, as well as in muscle-training exercises in the gym.

Interval training is nothing but interspersing ( or shall we call it spicing ? ) your regular workouts, with high intensity levels periodically. Which means, you do a low/medium intensity workout followed by a sudden high-intensity one, thereby surprising your body. That in turn makes your body work harder to cope with the new pressure. Resulting in burning more calories. Isn’t that what we are looking for ?

So, after you settle down in your pace, after the warm-up and stretches, choose a stretch of your walking track, where you will walk briskly for a few minutes  and then suddenly, slow down the pace to normal. Next, break into a light jog for another few minutes, or steps and then walk briskly. Slow down, then do race-walking for another few minutes and slow down again. Choose what you want to do, when. Be your own trainer. Set your own limits. That way, you will slowly build up endurance without being under pressure to perform. If you are able to run, add short running intervals. It will help you burn more calories and do more in that specified time.

For best results, strengthen your core and abdominal muscles. They are crucial for a good fitness walk, in building speed and maintaining walking form.

Walking by itself does not strengthen your core, you need to do a separate set of activity for it.

Walking works the hamstring, glute and shin muscles. That is why you need to stretch after a walk.

Walking  can help build strength in weak knees. Click here to know more. But if you already have issues with your knees, take guidance from a sports-medicine doctor.

Try walking on a variety of surfaces  as you grow stronger. It helps in improving your body’s sense of balance.

A Few Dont’s;

1) Absolute beginners, do not rush into trying out too many things. Get your form right and everything else will follow easily. Build speed gradually, work more on increasing time and distance.

2) Carry weights :

Tying ankle weights, or wrist weights  is not a great idea. They exert unnecessary pressure on the joints. However, if you absolutely want to carry weights, experts advise us to limit them to not more than 10 pounds. Carry them in a weight vest, backpack, or at the hips, so that body remains balanced and posture is not thrown off. By the way this is called ‘rucking’ , a combination of walking with a rucksack. Works very well only if proper form is maintained, else you are likely to injure yourself. So please try this under supervision.

Rucking ( image borrowed from internet )

Rucking ( image borrowed from internet )

 Beginners will build leg muscles with gradual increase in time and distance.

Some people carry light/medium dumbbells, or similar and incorporate light weight-lifting arm movements. Please, please don’t! Weight training is meant to be a stationary activity, where all your focus needs to be, on how you lift weights. Wrong form can injure you.

Finally did you know you can burn calories while you sleep ? The only way to achieve this is to build muscle. You can burn calories while you rest – it’s called the basal metabolic rate. When you add muscle to your body, your basal metabolic rate goes up. So it is best to add muscle-training, or weight training  to your fitness workouts. That way, your entire body gets a workout. Your fitness walk then contributes and complements, making it a holistic fitness activity.

Did you find these tips useful? Leave a comment or add info if you think I have missed out on something. It will help all of us, walkers !

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Why not to Bounce on Treadmill , Elliptical or Bicycle

Proper Posture + Workouts = Weight Loss 

Intro pic

Stand up straight and lose pounds ! Sit up straight and lose pounds ! Its true ! You got to believe in this happy marriage of good posture / form and weight loss. Health and fitness professionals will tell you that keeping good posture will not only strengthen your core , but will also add a small calorie burn associated with the effort to maintain the posture or position.

In fitness lingo , posture is most often referred to as FORM and form is what we will stick to. Lets look at form and cardio.

Lets leave aside the definitions for now.

Lets categorize a lil bit here. Those that love cardio exercise per se , those that know the importance of it and push themselves to do it and those that hate cardio , but yet do it because either a friend or a trainer has impressed upon them that cardio is the key to weight loss. What they havent learnt is that there is a form ( posture ) to be followed for cardio exercises just like for weight training , swimming or any other physical activity.

So these are the ones that bounce , bob up and down and swing , be it indoor or outdoor ; trust me , they look like monkeys on a machine ! I feel bad to see them doing it wrong , it bothers me no end . Either the trainer has not educated them on proper form or has given up after correcting them a few times. And they have not concerned themselves to ask , question and learn either. It’s just a blind activity for them.

You think I am obsessed with appearances only ? Nah. Not keeping proper form hurts. Injures the joints over a period of time , in some unfortunate cases , immediately.

So why not to bounce on an elliptical , treadmill or the stationary bike ?

Bouncing is letting gravity do the work for one. Is that why you are not seeing the desired results ? Fitness experts scream that heart rate is not the only indicator of how much work you are doing , but few listen. Power measurement is much better.

Work out in front of a mirror and if that’s not possible , have someone watch you for proper form and correct yourself.

Form dos for all the Three :

  • Stay tall , be it on the treadmill , elliptical or the cycling machines.
  • Stay tall , but no straight knees at any point , be it walking , running or cycling.
  • Keep your chest out , never rounded
  • Pull your shoulders back to hold yourself erect , never round them.
  • Keep your head in line with the spine. Most of the time.
  • Hold your ab muscles firm and tight at all times
  • A television in front of you kills form like nothing else , don’t make watching it the main activity.

If you bounce :

Treadmill :

Danger zone : Knees , hips and ankles.

You probably are raising your feet and knees too high and thereby creating a bobbing movement. Your knees , hips and ankles will hate you for being forced to absorb the impact when you bounce-walk or bounce-run. If you want your legs to keep you in good stead , you will need all the three joints – hips , knees and ankles , so don’t injure them. Next , nerve tissues can get compressed and fail to communicate with the brain. We don’t want pain , we don’t want mobility issues. Third , swinging your hips is for dancing when you move your entire body in a graceful stance and not while exercising on machines. Swinging while exercising can in fact rob you of the intended benefits of the particular workout , for it takes away the focus of the exertion that’s intended for a specific body part or muscle.

Guide to form on treadmill

Guide to form on treadmill

Correction :

Mind your stride : Practice maintaining a wide stride , placing each foot forward in front of the hip and not under it. Though the treadmill is stationary , we need to focus on creating a forward movement , as if progressing from the current spot.

Strike with the ball : The secret of avoiding injuries is to land on the balls of the feet and not the heels. Striking with the heels can place a lot of stress on the ankles as you will land with a mild or a strong thud depending on your pace. So land lightly , brushing the moving belt gently coupled with knees slightly bent. All this will create a smooth movement preventing a spring back action , thereby avoiding the bouncing.

Elliptical :

Danger zone : Lower back , hips , knees and ankles.

You probably are on your toes more , you are not distributing your weight on your entire feet. If feet are placed firmly with a just a slight lift at the heels , bouncing can be avoided.

You probably have set the resistance too low and the ease of the movement will allow room for bouncing. Swinging hips again a no-no. Maintaining a proper upper body posture plays an important role in avoiding injuries to the lower back.

Correction:

Foot postioning on an elliptical is of utmost importance. Place feet firmly close to the inside rim of the pedals. Avoid placing them in the center or at the extreme right.

Make sure the legs are bent slightly in order to spare your knees of any strain.

Next , hold on to the bars lightly , just enough to facilitate push and pull movement – clutching on to them will hinder your pace. Make sure hands are not above shoulder level. Avoid leaning backwards at all costs. Some trainers and cardio programs will tell you to lean back while pedaling , but do not follow that. Use only the arms and shoulders for the push and pull movements , take care not to twist your upper and mid portions of your body. Finally , set a good enough resistance to make the time you spend on the elliptical worth the effort you put in.

Targeted muscles on an elliptical

Targeted muscles on an elliptical

Just check out the number of muscles that benefit when you work out on an elliptical. So doing it right is like a whole body workout.

Cycling :

It’s easy to pedal fast indoors , the mechanics of the indoor bike is such. Fixed gear systems with weighted flywheels simplify it so much that high cadences can be reached most easily compromising form in the process and as a result cyclists bounce all over the place. Unless you become a stickler for form , reaching your fitness goals will remain a dream. Indoor cycling provides some fantastic benefits , its simple and safe , provided proper form is maintained.

Danger zone : Lower back , knees.

Sufficient resistance is the key to getting the best out of indoor cycling. You could pedal away as furiously as you fancy and bounce all over the saddle , if you don’t set the right resistance. Your heart rate may be high , but the fact is , you are being ridden by the bike instead of you riding the bike ! Just letting the legs spin as fast as you can is a waste of time and can put tremendous strain on your calf and quadricep muscles. On a spinning cycle indoors or regular bicycling outdoors , be assured of a back pain if you slouch and forget to tuck your tummy in.

Correction:

The answer to success on an indoor cycle lies in that resistance knob! And the technique !

Be in control. Seat your self with tummy tucked in and shoulders and upper back rounded just enough to reach the handl-bars comfortably , not more.

Warm up with easy resistance , work it to moderate and then on , enough to challenge you.

Concern yourself with the right form and the right resistance depending on your fitness level , let speed not be the guiding force. An upper limit could be 100 rpm , but that’s only for cyclists with a smooth pedal stroke or for those that have corrected their form already.

For best results , shift your focus from pushing downward ( that’s a natural given , we have all done that on our tricycles ) to pulling upwards pedal stroke.

If at any point you revert to bouncing , raise the resistance and reach a cadence that just about surpasses your comfort zone

Here’s to riding better !

Cycling right

Cycling right

A Tip : Cycling – Cardio For Your Butt

Cycling works wonders for hips , thighs and glutes ( indoor or outdoor ) , besides working the heart.

Here we go : Lead with your heels when you push down on the pedals i.e keep your feet parallel to the ground and not slanted. This way you engage the glutes.

Make an effort to pull up the pedal on the upward swing if your feet are strapped.

Working on the above tips ensures you give work to all muscles of the legs.

Add Isolations : Increase resistance , lift yourself off the seat and slowly pedal using only the legs. Remember no bouncing , no swaying and swinging and upper body relaxed.

I try this FORM once a weak at least and I find that I burn more calories get a good-legs-have-worked-out feeling

FORM is IMPORTANT ! And finally I am tempted to insert this little ad-video to stress on FORM FOR ALL !