You’ve been walking for most of your life but do you know how to do it correctly? I ask this because it was only when I learnt how to Nordic walk that I paid attention to the detail of how my body actually moved – and I realised that I had acquired bad walking habits through sheer ignorance of how to do it properly.
Correcting the following common walking mistakes will improve your posture, balance and speed and make your walk more active even without Nordic walking poles.
- Walking with your head down
Dropping your head and looking at your feet or mobile phone stresses your whole body. That’s because the average human head is heavy, really heavy! It weighs in at a whopping 4.5 – 5kg (think five bags of sugar) and for every inch your head extends forward, your neck has to support an additional 4.5 kg of weight. This is enough to shift your entire body out of alignment, cause a great deal of neck and shoulder – and even back – pain and reduce your lung capacity by up to 30%.
By lifting your head and focusing on good posture you will be able to walk further, faster and longer without feeling the strain. You will also instantly look slimmer! Here’s a check list:
- Lengthen your spine right up into your head. Think of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than a separate entity
- Lift the weight of your head off your shoulders
- Chin level with the ground
- Shoulders wide
- Max the gap between your hip bone and your rib cage
- Distribute your weight evenly.
- Not using your arms
Walking with your arms dangling inactively beside you is biomechanically wrong, plus it’s a wasted opportunity to improve your health and calorie burn. Your arm should swing gently with each stride (opposite arm and leg), with a soft bend at the elbow. Not only does this help with your circulation and lymph drainage (you have twenty lymph nodes under each armpit) but it engages more muscles so you’ll burn more calories too.
- Inactive feet
The reason why many older folk shuffle is because they’ve not used their feet properly, so their shins and other supporting muscles have weakened and their feet have become inactive. This sensory amnesia can work its way up your body, switching off the powerful gluteal muscles in your bottom and straining your lower back which tries to take over the job. It’s a travesty that such a simple thing as rolling your foot properly is not more widely known – it would prevent many falls and help resolve much back ache.
Nordic walking encourages an active foot roll but you don’t need to Nordic walk to be active with your feet. Your foot is meant to roll through from the heel, over the foot arch to the ball of your foot and ultimately your toes. Think of squeezing a lemon under your foot at each stride – or of peeling Velcro from the base of your foot off the floor. The action should be fluid: focus on keeping your foot as soft and pliable as possible. In particular use your shin muscle to lift your toe, spread your toes wide, and push off evenly with them.
- Bending at your waist as you walk uphill
Next time you walk uphill observe yourself. Do you ‘glide’ up, leading with your chest and leaning into the hill from your ankles? Or do you bend over at your waist, maybe with your hands on your thighs and your shoulders hunched forwards? Even (especially) if you are unfit, learning the correct way to walk uphill will make the whole experience so much easier and more enjoyable. Here’s what to do:
- Keep your chest lifted and your shoulders wide and relaxed. This will give your lungs the maximum space to inflate fully making it easier to breath.
- Don’t drop your head.
- Lean into the hill from your ankles NOT your waist. Bending at the waist strains your back muscles and can give you lower back ache.
- Maintain an active heel toe roll. This will engage your leg muscles and glutes – which are the main power muscles for going uphill.
- Pump your arms to give you momentum and extra oomph.
If you want to learn how to walk properly, using more muscles and burning more calories, join one of our Beginner Workshops and learn how to Nordic walk. It’s a whole body workout and lots of fun.