Power Walking is recommended by doctor and health studies as being easier on the body than most aerobic exercises. Jogging or running can be destructive to a person's feet and joints. This is especially true for those who are extremely overweight. Most exercise equipment is rated at about 275 pounds or less. Power Walking may be the best way a person weighing over 300 pounds can begin an accelerated aerobic program.
Power walking will do more than improve the shape of your body...
...in less time than using regular walking. Dr. Simpson extols the virtues of walking because if you do no physical activity your health will be severely impacted no matter how thin you become. Motion equates to life. If you have become severely overweight and totally inactive over a period of years, it is imperative that you lose weight by restricting caloric intake. But, to reverse damage to your cardiovascular system you must improve your circulation to more quickly remove cholesterol plaque from your veins and arteries. Exercise increases circulation and oxygen delivery to your cells allowing damages to be repaired and a new level of health to be obtained. If you have been sedentary over a period of years but reject the idea of an accelerated aerobics program such as power walking, for you health's sake at least take up some form of walking; it will save your life. Do as Dr. Simpson suggests...walk your dog.
Getting the best shoes for Power Walking
You should never use cheap shoes. Poorly designed shoes will destroy your feet. That rule applies for every day usage as well as for athletics. There are shoes designed specifically for power walking (including all of the shoes shown on this page). Some power walking shoes look like regular dress shoes as opposed to athletic shoes Many experts state that you can use running shoes for power walking. The first critical feature that must be present is a thick cushioning heal. Power walking requires a heal to toe motion which is the opposite of the toe to heal motion used in jogging or running. Do not buy racing shoes. Racing shoes are lighter than training shoes. Weight is reduced in racing shoes by limiting cushioning in the sole, especially the heal. A lack of cushioning can result in bone spurs developing on the heal bone. You want training shoes not racing shoes. The shoe must be designed with the perfect amount of arch support and flex. If the shoe flexes too easily or is too firm, or does not have proper arch support you will strain your foot and potentially develop foot injuries. Plantar Fasciitis is an overuse injury affecting the sole or flexor surface (plantar) of the foot. A diagnosis of plantar fasciitis means you have inflamed the tough, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) connecting your heel bone to the base of your toes. Because of potential damages such as bone spurs and Plantar Fasciitis, do not buy bargain bin shoes unless you can confirm they were previously first line quality prior to any price reduction (such as last years model). Do not buy second quality shoes, as they may be shoes that failed to meet performance standards. Spare no expense when it comes to your shoes. Good shoes breath and will be less likely to become an environment for fungus or bacteria. Get shoes that are washable. Go to a reputable store and make certain your salesperson is trained and experienced in sizing athletic shoes. The wrong size will destroy your ability to power walk and maybe your feet. Buy only brand name shoes: New Balance, Asics, Brooks, Nike, Fila, Avia, Puma, Saucony.
If you already have Plantar Fasciitis, does that mean you can't power walk? That is a decision for your Podiatrist to make. I have Plantar Fasciitis because I used racing shoes instead of training shoes for running. I would not hesitate to run again because it does not affect me that much. You on the other hand may have a more severe case. There are stretching exercises and shoe inserts that can aid your feet and minimize the symptoms. I will tell you that you need to exercise for longevity and quality of life and that for those reasons I would find a way to do it despite this malady. You may have to use another form of exercise. But, your doctor is the only person who can direct you in this issue.
The goal should be a sustained (non-stop) walk at about 4.5 mph
Unless you are already marginally fit, you won't start at that speed. You will have to work up to it. As with any exercise you should warm up prior to actually going full speed. Stretching is good for you, but you should be careful not to stretch too much when your body is cold. Otherwise you can tear muscle and ligaments. Start walking at a lesser gate and speed for a distance prior to gaining your workout gate. This will allow your muscles to warm up and gently stretch to accommodate the motion, limiting the potential for damage.
You should walk for a set distance and record the time it takes to do it. A pedometer is a device that can measure your time, distance, steps and calories burned. It is a good thing to use if you want to avoid boredom by not walking the same path each time you walk. Good pedometers are available online for about $20 and they will save you from having to compute your exercise rate using your watch and a calculator. Without using a pedometer you should start at a known point and walk a set distance at a reduced speed to another known point for your warm-up. After the warm-up distance you should walk to a third known point at your workout speed. An easy way to determine your pace is to go to your local high school running track (it should measure one-quarter of a mile) or take a drive and measure a mile around the neighborhood with your car's odometer. Then go out and walk the mile. If it takes you 20 minutes, that's 3 mph; 15 minutes is 4 mph; 13 minutes is 4 1/2 mph, and 12 minutes is a highly athletic 5 mph. The brisker your pace, the more calories you will burn.
But if all you can manage is a 20-minute mile, don't worry. Walk regularly, and within 3 weeks, your rate and endurance will increase. Persistence is the key. As your speed increases you will learn what you body feels like when you achieve a sustained aerobic workout. You will be sweating. When you start out do 3 to 4 power walks per week. Increase it to 5 or 6 power walks when you get strong enough to do it. When your set distance gets easy for you to do while constantly maintaining your target speed, increase your distance. Only increase your distance after you absolutely know you have mastered your present distance. When the distance of your walk gets to a point you don't want to increase it any further, begin increasing your speed. Please refer to the "Starting with Aerobics" page to learn how to increase your workout (link is below).
Power walking form
Long strides are less efficient than short ones. This is important for you to remember. Forcing your legs to go forward will expend much more energy than using shorter but faster strides. The key word is "force." With any aerobic exercise the goal is balance and rhythm. If you force your motion you will consume 3 to 4 times more energy and thus terminate your workout very quickly. If you can't learn to relax and not force your motion you will not be able to do aerobic exercise. Use a faster but natural walking gait, minimizing exaggeration. Heel first, then the ball, finally your toe is the order that your feet should contact the earth.
Stand erect, do not lean forward (or backward). You must balance your torso in the center of the motion of your legs. Bend your arms at your arms at 90 degrees. Do not form tight fists. Relax your hands loosely closed at a 45 degree angle, so they feel like an animal's paw. let them swing back and forth from your side slightly crossing the front of your upper stomach.
Should you tighten your but when Power Walking?
That's what the "experts" say, and on that point I disagree with the experts. If you have read my writing "Starting With Aerobics," you know that I will tell you that you must learn how to stand erect while relaxing your body as much as you can when doing aerobic exercise. Tightening your but is the opposite of relaxing, and I guarantee you that tightening your buttocks muscles will shorten your walk. If you have not been exercising in recent times or are just starting out with your fitness, don't think about your but. Maybe at a later point you can bring in but tightening, but at first make it as easy as you can on yourself so you don't quit.
Should you suck in your gut when Power Walking? The experts say that you should contract your abs while walking. Again, I will tell you that contracting any muscles will add stress to your workout that will end it prematurely. In this case you will affect your breathing, the control of which is critical to a sustained workout. So this in my opinion is the worst advice that you must disregard, especially if you are just starting out. With any aerobics you must breath using expansion and contraction of your stomach. This is called "stomach breathing" and it should be used rather than chest breathing. Chest breathing, expanding and contracting your chest cavity consumes much more energy than breathing by expanding and contracting the upper stomach muscles. Try it, try breathing by chest expansion and then by abdominal expansion. You will see that chest breathing requires you to expand your ribcage with effort from your entire upper torso muscle group, while stomach breathing only requires mild effort using much fewer muscles at the top of the abdomen. If you want to exercise for an extended period, you must use stomach breathing.
Should you add intervals to your Power Walk?
I wouldn't, because it eliminates your ability to precisely gauge and control your workout. Intervals are short bursts of increased speed. Typically three speeds are used: Regular walking, brisker, and fastest possible. You are supposed to change your speed throughout your workout. Many experts recommend that you do interval training for only one or two workouts per week and doing a constant (single speed) workout the rest of the week. When I have done interval training, I found it difficult to time the intervals and to remember just how many intervals I have done. I recommend that when you get into good enough shape to do interval workouts, instead begin a resistance (weight lifting) program. Resistance training increases intensity in aerobic training. If you add resistance exercises, especially squats or leg presses to your regimen you can precisely increase the effect of your walk by increasing your resistance workout intensity. Keep in mind that you don't have to, or want to add much of a leg press or squat program because those exercises directly conflict with walking, jogging and running. I recommend that when you get to the point in your Power Walking program that you are consistently doing 5 mph over 3 to 4 miles, add resistance training. Then you will begin forming your body into the best shape it can be.
Why should you precisely gauge your workout? Because when the glamour of working out wears off, you will go slower and slower. In the case of doing intervals you will slowly lessen the number of intervals and they will become shorter and shorter. You must know your distance and the time it takes to do that distance. It never fails, when people don't keep track of time and distance, they try and make working out comfortable and the result is a slow degeneration of the rate of exercise. Some days, when your chemistry is up, it's easy. Most of the time you will have to force yourself into your discomfort zone, it's the nature of the beast. If you don't measure, set and adhere to your distance and time parameters, your workout will slowly go down the drain.
Beginning your Power Walking program
You have decided to get in shape after years of not exercising. You are excited and maybe you have told your friends and family about your exercise goals. Maybe you haven't had enough time to exercise in the past, because of raising children and/or working a challenging career. You are convinced that now, because you have the precious time to do it, that it can't be that hard. It's just repetitive motion isn't it? You have read up on exactly how to do it and know you are ready to go. You have set your distance. You get out on the track, begin, and end in a little over 5 minutes huffing and puffing totally out of breath. Wow, that was harder than you thought it would be! You are very disappointed in yourself, and have confirmed to yourself just why you haven't done this all of your life. So what do you do now...go home?
NO...now is the time you use intervals, at the beginning of your program when you must build endurance. When you run out of gas after your first five minutes, walk slower to regain your breath. When you regain your breath go back up to your workout gait. Do this until you make your distance (start with a mile at first). Time your entire workout as outlined above. Soon your overall workout time will reduce and ultimately the day will come when you no longer have to stop and regain your breath, you will attain your goal of walking straight through with no intervals.
BE AWARE OF YOUR HEART. You must get a physical from your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program to determine if you are healthy enough to do it. If you are overweight you may have clogged veins and arteries. Physical activity is one of the best counters to high cholesterol. Too much physical activity with clogged veins and arteries can kill you. You doctor may tell you to limit your workout at the outset until your cholesterol and blood pressure go down. Then she may let you slowly accelerate your workout. She will want you to do aerobic exercise to counter high blood pressure if you can.
Measure your heart rate...especially if you are out of shape and just starting out. When your heart rate climbs well above your target rate, slow down until it stabilizes a little below the target rate. Then slowly increase your gait speed until it is at target. After a while your cardiovascular system will strengthen and you will have to increase your gait speed to maintain your heart rate at target. Won't that be a great feeling to actually see you heart and arterial/vascular system become stronger?
If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you'll need to drink extra water to compensate for that fluid loss. Drink at least 2 cups of water two hours prior to your workout.
If you live in a hot dry place such as Arizona, you should bring water with you and continuously take sips of water during your workout. Otherwise you are liable to experience dehydration, heat exhaustion, and in the worst case heat stroke. Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization...it can cause serious damage to your brain and internal organs and even kill you. It WILL happen to YOU on hot dry days if you do not keep yourself continuously hydrated. You can use a water bottle belt to carry water that you can easily access during your workout. Hydration Packs are water systems that are typically carried on your back using a back-pack type harness. Hydration packs use a tube with a valve at the end so that a simple bend of the neck and a bite introduces your mouth to the water it craves. They are stylish and comfortable and include hip or backpack harnesses. Do not exercise during the hottest time of day during hot weather. Exercise at dawn or dusk to avoid the heat.
Who is Power Walking for?
Power Walking may be best for extremely overweight or out of shape people who will have difficulty raising their legs to do a jogging motion. It may be best for people that are too heavy for a machine such as an elliptical or treadmill. Power walking at 4.5 to 5.5 mph is almost as efficient as jogging. The walking gait gives significantly less impact to the joints. It can be used while a person is in the process of bringing their weight down to a range that they can jog, use an elliptical machine or other aerobic exercise. I am not a fan of Power Walking. It is a very unnatural motion compared to jogging. The more natural motion of jogging allows the participant to obtain a rhythm that makes the exercise much easier to expand into higher levels of fitness...if you feet and knees can take it. On the other hand, I have seen very fit people using Power Walking. So there must be something to it.
Power Walking web sites
Before using this information or beginning any exercise program, consult your physician. This is especially important for persons over the age of 35 or with pre-existing health problems. Mark Jorgensen, Dr. Terry Simpson and all of his affiliated organizations assume no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained by or through use of this information.