When it comes to keeping fit, there are few activities easier to get started with than walking. You don’t need any special equipment or training (though, as we’ll see, a little bit of each might help) and you can do it virtually anywhere in the country.
Once you’ve garnered a certain amount of walking experience, you’ll be able to sign up for long-distance endurance activities, like a charity trek that’ll see you cross distant mountains and deserts, while raising money for a good cause. You’ll also be able to enjoy, rather than endure, walking holidays in our country’s many national parks.
But in order to get the best from walking, you’ll need to do it in the right way. Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of the activity, and see how you might progress.
When it comes to self-improvement of any sort – whether it’s learning a skill or improving physically – the best way to proceed is very gradually. You’ll want to push yourself hard enough that you’re placing a strain on your body, but not so hard that you risk injury. Take it too easy and you simply won’t progress.
If you’re approaching this from a very sedentary starting point, then the good news is that you won’t have to walk very far in order to receive the benefits – if you find that you’re out of breath, then it means that you’re progressing. Whether this takes ten minutes or ten hours is irrelevant. Once you’ve gotten to this point, you can give yourself some recovery time before going for another walk – where you should be able to go that little bit farther and faster.
Of course, this means that you’ll be limited in the amount of progress you can make in a given week. If you decide to skip a week’s walking, you won’t be able to catch up by doing twice as much the following week.
Dealing with Plateaus
In any activity, there will come points where the rate of improvement is incredible – and there will come points where it grinds to a halt. These latter sorts of plateau can be discouraging – so try and figure out a way to push through them.
Generally speaking, plateaus come about when the exercise becomes too easy. The way to solve this problem, then, is to change the stimulus to make things a little bit more challenging. That’s where ‘cross training’ comes in. By mixing in a few half-hour cycling or running sessions with your walk, you’ll be challenging your body in different ways – and it’ll respond by adapting.
Fortunately, there are many different ways in which we can adjust our walks to make them tax our bodies in different ways:
Going up and down steep slopes taxes the stabilising muscles in your legs and core in ways that a flat slope simply can’t replicate. If you’re used to relatively flat walks, then, you’re sure to find new challenges on hillier ones. If you’re unable to get to a hill easily, then you might get some benefit from a treadmill set to a steep incline.
It should probably go without saying that more walking will eventually result in more exhaustion. If you’re looking to build towards a long charity challenge which extends over a hundred miles, you’ll want to gradually build the distance you walk every week.
Covering more distance in a given time will place greater strain on your body. That said, walking quickly demands a certain sort of technique – swing your arms too much, or overextend your stride, and you’re inviting injury. Once you’ve reached a certain level of speed, it’s best to go for longer and more varied walks, rather than trying to rapidly plough through shorter ones.
As we’ve mentioned, one of the great things about walking is that you don’t need much in the way of equipment to get started. But once you’ve reached a certain point, then a little investment can help you to make much better progress – and help stave off the discomfort of blisters and wind chill.
The most important piece of equipment you’ll require is a decent pair of walking boots – ones that will support your ankles, and guard against blisters. You’ll also eventually want to invest in wind-proof clothing that’ll keep you warm without making you sweaty and uncomfortable. Finally, if you want to monitor your progress in the long-term, a wrist-mounted heart rate monitor might also prove a wise investment.