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Gait-way to health

Posted by Elizebath Bijoy Monday, March 14, 2011

It will take practice to override your existing stride but once you master the Walkactive technique, the health benefits will be hot on your heels. Here's how you can adjust your stride:
1 Feet and ankles
The feet and ankles are the foundation of this technique. The aim is to hit the ground with the pad of your heel, roll through the whole foot as though it's made of soft, pliable Plasticine, feel your toes spread out in your shoes and then really push off with your toes, feeling the front of your ankle stretch out. A good mantra is "absorb and show": absorb the ground as you roll through your foot and aim to show the soles of your shoes to the person behind by pushing off with your toes. Try to do this smoothly and softly (not with a jerking motion), and feel your buttocks engaging as you do so.
2 Head and neck
A common mistake is to allow your shoulders to creep up towards your ears, creating tension in your neck, shoulders and back. Look up and forward, and focus on relaxing your shoulders by increasing the space between your shoulders and ears. This helps to open up your chest and makes breathing easier.
3 Arms
Good arm movement encourages mobility in the spine and shoulders. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and focus on a long backward swing and short forward swing — this helps propel you forward. Keep your hands relaxed. As they move forward, they should come slightly across your body but not up towards your chin.
4 Pelvis and hips
The aim is to adjust your pelvis into a neutral position to prevent back and hip pain. A common mistake when trying to achieve this is to suck the stomach muscles in but this creates compression in the lower back and reduces mobility in the spine. Instead, engage your abdominals to about 75 per cent, so that your lower back still feels soft and supple. At the same time, ensure that you don't tense your buttock muscles. Now concentrate on keeping your hips level as you walk (it might help to imagine that you have a glass of water balanced on each hip). Refrain from swinging or tilting your hips, as this can cause back or hip pain and reduce forward propulsion.
Next comes the speed factor. If you have already tried walking as a means of getting fit but been frustrated by the lack of results, it's probably because you weren't walking fast enough. The ideal number of steps per minute for health benefits is 115 and higher. For real fitness gains, you should be walking at a pace in the range of 124-155 steps per minute. The average person takes about 94-105 steps per minute. With this technique, the pace you're aiming for is called your optimum walking pace (OWP). Use the following instructions to establish your OWP.
Break point drill
This drill will help you find your OWP. Choose a long stretch of space where you can walk without interruption. With good technique, start walking at a leisurely pace. After five seconds, increase the pace slightly. After another five seconds, increase it some more. Continue to do this until you're walking so fast that you have to break into a run — this is your break point. The pace you're walking at just before you reach your break point is your maximum walking pace (MWP). You'll probably find that your technique has gone to pieces but don't worry about this. Ease off your MWP by about 5-10 per cent — this is your optimum walking pace (OWP). It should be fast enough to feel breathless but slow enough that you're able to maintain good technique.
When you're starting out, repeat this drill at the beginning of every walk so you really get used to how your OWP feels. It will increase as you get fitter, so don't compare it with anyone else's or worry that it's too slow.
Find your baseline
The number of steps you take in a day are also important. At the start of the walking plan, find your baseline (the average amount of steps you walk in a day). To work this out, you'll need a pedometer. Wear it for three days and write down the number of steps you take on a normal day. Then add the total number of steps from those three days together and divide that by three. This figure is your baseline. Individuals taking less than 5,000 steps a day are defined as sedentary, which means they are at greater risk of 20 known illnesses, including depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Throughout the fitness plan, the aim is to get your baseline number of steps up to 7,500+ a day. This is achievable for the majority of people. Wear a pedometer every day if you can, or at least make a point of wearing it in Week 1, Week 4 and Week 8 so you can measure your progress.
Key terms to remember
  • Maximum walking pace (MWP): The fastest pace you can walk at without breaking into a run.
  • Break point: The point at which you're walking so fast you break into a run.
  • Optimum walking pace (OWP): The pace you should aim to walk at — about 5-10 per cent slower than your MWP.
  • Baseline: The average number of steps you take in a day.


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