Walking and It’s Progressions
Welcome to the area in the Movement for Life Website dedicated to walking. You have accessed this information, we assume, for one or more of the following reasons:
- Walking forms the basis for your current or planned exercise regimen
- You are planning an incredible walking adventure that requires prime fitness
- You simply want to gain valuable information regarding this important form of bipedal locomotion (bipedal locomotion means movement by using your two feet- except biking and various elliptical devices don’t count – they’re great exercise devices, but they do not produce movement exactly like walking, jogging and sprinting).
Soooo…..Let’s take a real close look at this motion we call bipedal locomotion.
Bipedal Locomotion: Emphasis on Walking
By bipedal locomotion, we mean one or a combination of the following activities:
- Fast or power/race walking
- Related activities such as jumping, skipping, leaping
All of the above activities require concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) of leg muscles in extremely complex ways to afford movement across varying distances (or heights) while the moving person is bearing weight variously on one or both legs.
Valuable Exercises Not Included in Our Definition
- Cross country or other skiing activities
- Stair and Elliptical Machines (although these come close to being included in our definition)
- Swimming (although walking in or on water fits in our definition)
Why The Emphasis on Bipedal Locomotion?
There are two main reasons for this emphasis:
- Bipedal locomotion is basically how we were designed to function
- The bipedal locomotion we call walking is a basic functional movement that is diminished as we age
Mostly, It’s About Walking….
Our audience and participants will notice that walking is basic to much of what we do. “Walking and Progressions” is the other basic activity added to the Core at Four Exercise cluster to accomplish the following:
- Improve posture
- Enhance bone and joint health
- Improve endurance and stamina
- Alter body composition
- Most importantly, perhaps, to allow us the continued function of walking in an optimal fashion (practice makes perfect)
Overall, as we train, our body adapts specifically for the activity for which we train. The training adaptation is a phenomenon known as the SAID principal (SAID is the antonym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands This is why walking training forms the basis for much of our movement programming. It is acticvity designed so that we will be able to walk safely well into our latter years of life.
“Tweaking” the Walking
Just as in other types of exercise, all walking is not created equal. Indeed we can change walking in several different ways depending on what, if anything other than moving from one place to another, we are trying to accomplish.
Here are some ways to “tweak” our walking.
Speed: Speed of walking (which can be thought of as a pace expressed in minutes per mile) ranges from an easy stroll with a friend to power walking. The stroll can be used as follows:
- A warm-up that increases to our goal pace during a movement regimen
- A recovery pace between harder interval efforts
- The pace established as a nice walk with a friend at the park or while shopping
At the other end of the walking spectrum is power/race walking. This pace and effort may be described as a pace just on the verge of breaking into a fast jog. In general a slow jog is performed at a slower pace than power/race walking. Because power/race walking is less efficient than jogging, it is important in training considerations. True race walking is a learned form of athletics, which at it’s best, utilizes trunk and arm motions to help propel the legs. In order to be defined as walking, in race walking, one of the legs must be in contact with the ground at all times during the movement. If both feet leave the ground and are in the air at the same time before one of them hits the ground, that may be jogging, running or sprinting depending on the function of the legs during the activity. Thus if both feet leave the ground during the gait cycle, such effort is not walking due to our very definition of walking.
Intensity: Walking may be altered in intensity in three ways: First by moving the legs faster (taking faster steps) called turnover and second by taking longer stride lengths. A third way in which the intensity and load may be altered is through the use of hiking poles. Increasing leg turnover has the effect of stimulating more eccentric or muscle lengthening activity. Increasing stride length also increases eccentric muscle loading during the stance phase of walking, but also increases the concentric or muscle shortening, most notably of the posterior hip, hamstring, and quadriceps muscles.
Load: In our overall program, we can increase our training load during a given daily moves regimen through wearing a backpack or a weighted vest. Overtime, we will progressively increase the weight of this load to allow strength adaptations to occur. We recommend a backpack if the trainee has any desire to participate in outdoor hiking/backpacking activities.
Time: This varies greatly depending on the desired goals of a given training session (which is dependent of our overall goals and objectives), thus a session may last from 15 minutes up to literally days!
Frequency: Depending on speed, intensity and load plus our goals and motivation, walking can take place on a daily basis (or even twice daily at low to moderate levels of effort). At high levels of effort, the wise trainee will space a day or two between such hard exercise sessions.
As an activity relatively safe for the musculoskeletal system, yet great for the cardiovascular system, it would be hard to beat power walking (I know – swimming is even easier on the musculoskeletal system – but a lot of us are not great swimmers plus swimming is not specific to walking!) Look at the advantages of Power Walking:
- Easily performed – even indoors on a treadmill
- Requires little or no equipment – just wearing apparel appropriate for the weather and foot wear appropriate to individual body types and training [click here for footwear discussion].
- Involves both upper and lower extremities
- Relatively low injury rates
- Burns more calories than jogging at the same pace
- May be the most beneficial exercise in preventing low back pain (with the exception of individuals with spinal stenosis and severe degenerative disc disease/arthritis)
- A base conditioning period of power walking can be morphed into a jogging program – far less likely to provoke injury than simply beginning running
As noted above, when both feet are in the air at the same time, and we are moving forward (or even backward!), we are no longer walking. At the lower-end of the intensity spectrum, jogging can take place at an even slower pace than power walking. Also, because of the eccentric (muscle lengthening) nature of jogging, it is a more efficient way of utilizing bipedal locomotion to cover a really long distance over a short time frame than power or race walking. Additionally, due to this efficient long-term use of the musculoskeletal system, one is likely to burn more fat as an energy substrate during long slow jogging. More intense forms of bipedal locomotion such as extremely fast power walking or sprinting tends to burn large amounts of muscle glycogen during such hard efforts. Such high intensity means that over a time period, one performing such activities is likely to deplete the muscles of glycogen. Once glycogen is depleted, even easy jogging becomes difficult and very soon, the person will slow to a walk or even stop completely. This phenomena, which often occurs in marathoners, in known as “hitting the wall.
“Mr. In Between”: Long Striding
Somewhere between power walking and fast jogging/or running is a movement that I simply call long-stride walking. It is a movement that has the following benefits:
- Provides a transition between power walking and moderate to fast-paced jogging during a given Daily Moves regimen
- Engages the hip extensors, quadriceps and hamstrings and therefore can be a reasonable substitute for hill repeats (when no hills are available)
- Breaks the monotony of long steady distance walking
Activities Related to Bipedal Locomotion
We may occasionally “pepper” movement regimens with bipedal locomotion activities such as jumping, skipping and leaping.