Tim Dowling thought he was already good at walking—until he met Joanna Hall, a movement specialist and fitness expert who developed walking techniques now used by people around the world.
Dowling, a contributing writer to The Guardian, was skeptical that learning how to walk better could result in huge health benefits. But, he became a firm believer after getting involved with Hall’s WalkActive program. Hall, based in London, England, believes that even though no one is good at walking, people of all ages can learn to make their walking more effective and achieve greater cardiovascular fitness.
For four weeks, Dowling and Hall walked for an hour as she taught him her walking techniques. When they weren’t walking together, Dowling used Hall’s WalkActive app, a mix of instructional videos, audio coaching sessions, and timed walks set to music of varying speeds.
Hall says her “evidence-based and scientifically proven” system can help you improve your walk in just 10 days. The walking system aims to:
- Improve posture
- Reduce joint strain at the knee and ankle
- Increase walking speed by up to 24 percent
- Improve body shape and fitness
Hall said she developed the system 10 years ago when she was pregnant and had appendicitis. “As soon as I was pregnant, even prior to having the appendicitis challenge, I never felt I wanted to do high-impact activity,” Hall told Dowling for his article in The Guardian. “So walking was a natural thing for me to focus on.”
Hall’s system involves thinking differently about how you normally walk. For example, Hall says most people think about stepping into the space in front of them, but she wants walkers to think about walking out of the space behind them.
“If that sounds a bit abstract to you—as it did to me, at first—think about it this way: good walking is an act of propulsion, of pushing yourself forward off your back foot,” Dowling wrote. “Bad walking—my kind of walking—is overly dependent on traction: pulling yourself along with your front foot. This shortens your stride, relies too much on your hip flexors and puts unnecessary stress on your knees.”
Dowling said this took a “tremendous amount of concentration to do something so basic, and so ingrained, in a different way.”
1. Walk with your whole foot
Hall advises walkers to create what she calls an “open ankle” by leaving your heel on the ground longer, then peeling it away. With each foot strike, be aware of walking through the heel and the arch of the foot, and then pushing off the toes. Dowling said he had to learn how to leave his back foot on the ground longer and then peel it away, heel first, as if it were stuck in place with Velcro.” “Feel the peel,” Hall told him. “Feel.The. Peel.”
Hall says that an open ankle helps your leg lengthen, resulting in getting leaner, firmer thighs and making your buttock muscle (the gluteus maximus) contract firm and lift.
2. Keep your hips stable
Try to keep your hips still as you walk. This will make the abdominal muscles work harder. The best way to keep your hips level is to lengthen the distance between your pelvis (the hip bone) and your lowest rib. Dowling said Hall recommended he do this by standing tall and creating more flexibility through his torso. Stabilizing your hips helps to improve your posture, flatten your tummy and make your buttocks work more effectively, all of which results in a flatter tummy, Hall says. Swinging or tilting your hips can cause back or hip pain and reduces forward propulsion.
3. Increase the space between your shoulders and ears
One mistake walkers make is to raise their shoulders up towards their ears, which causes tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. So, Hall says to make as much distance as possible between your shoulders and ears. You can do this by looking up and forward, which lengthens your neck and relaxes your shoulders. Hall says this corrects rounded shoulders and instantly makes you look taller and leaner. It also aligns your spine correctly and reduces stiffness and soreness.
4. Use your arms
Surprisingly, your walking speed comes from your arms and not your legs, Hall says. When you want to speed up, Hall says to swing your arms faster, and then your legs will automatically move faster. Hold your arms at a comfortable level, bent at the elbow, and swing them backwards and forwards as you walk. Swinging your arms pushes your shoulder blades back, which opens up your chest area and helps to improve your pace. Moving the arms further back also allows you to open up your stride, she said.
5. Find your right walking pace
Rather than concentrate on speed, Hall recommends concentrating on finding your own “optimum walking pace.” This is the pace that has been clinically shown to improve your health, fitness, and body shape, she said. The optimum walking pace varies from person to person. For example, one person may see great results at a slower pace than another walker. You don’t need to be “walking around at break neck speed to get fitter, firmer and leaner,” Hall said.
Hall’s system has other techniques and recommendations, such as avoiding using hand weights. Some walkers use hand weights as a way to tone their arms, increase the intensity of their walking workout, and elevate their heart rate. But Hall calls hand weights a “no-no” because gripping a weight tightly creates tension in the shoulders. And, tension prevents the shoulders from rotating while walking, and this can affect your posture.
Instead of hand weights, Hall suggests wearing a weighted vest since studies show they can provide health benefits. For example, a study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that wearing a vest that weighs 10 to 15 percent of your body weight could help you burn 13 percent more calories.
Hall’s ultimate goal is to get people committed to walking, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. In fact, Hall has issued weekly challenges of walking 1, 3 or 5 kilometers (km). For example, if you took 120 steps per minute, it would take 10 minutes to walk 1 kilometer (0.62 miles).
Hall believes that if you can only do one exercise, choose walking.
“I’m not anti-running, I’m not anti-gyms, I think they all have a role to play,” Hall told The Guardian. “But I also think, sometimes, if we just think about the simplest thing that we could all do, and just get people to do it better, even if someone doesn’t necessarily feel as if they want to walk for longer, even if they just looked at changing their walking technique and applied it to their commute, that can be powerful.”