Regular exercise is good for us. Exercise keeps us healthy, helps us lose weight--it can even help us live longer. Of all the forms of exercise, none are more popular than walking. And with good reason: stride for stride, fitness experts agree that walking provides the most health and longevity benefits. There are many reasons for this.
Walking is low-impact. If we walk with proper form, we can eventually walk for long periods, which is even better for our metabolism and our cardiovascular system. Walking can be done anywhere, even indoors in a shopping mall or airport. Walking can be a great social activity where friends can get fit together--and it's cost-effective. You don't need a gym membership or fancy equipment, just a good pair of walking shoes. It is with good reason that nearly 80 million Americans consider themselves walkers, and this number is growing each year.
Despite this explosion, there is very little instruction available on how to walk properly.
At one time, we all knew how to walk with excellent form, but before very long we lose that form, and our bodies become misaligned and imbalanced and our joints become stiff. That’s why ChiWalking created a five step process to learn to walk with excellent form that will get you physically fit.
No. One: Get Aligned
Your form is totally dependent upon your posture. The efficiency of your walking form is directly proportional to the quality of your posture. What is good posture?
It’s when your body weight is supported by your bones, ligaments and tendons and the imaginary dots at your ankle, hip and shoulder are all connected in a straight line. When those dots are out of alignment even slightly, your muscles need to do the work of holding you upright.
One important principle that comes from T’ai Chi practice is called needle and cotton. The needle represents the thin straight line of strength running vertically up through the body along the spine. You gather your energy to your center while letting go of tension in your extremities--your arms and legs--so they can be can be soft and fluid, like cotton, as you initiate all movement from that center line of strength.
Begin by aligning your posture, making sure your spine is long, tall and straight. If you maintain good posture in all your activities, not just walking, it will give your muscles a break and your brain a breath of fresh air.
No. Two: Engage your Core
The strongest part of your body is also the one that is most involved in walking. Core strengthening is a very big topic in fitness circles. Your core muscles are the ones that are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis in any activity, including sitting down. They hold your spine erect and balanced and help move your legs.
To engage your core from a standing position, first set your feet hip-width apart and parallel, and relax your feet and soften your knees. Then make your spine as spacious and long as you can by simply elongating your spine as though a string were attached to the crown of your head and was being pulled gently up to the sky. To engage your core by leveling your pelvis, place a hand on your belly, with your thumb at your naval and your fingers just above your pubic bone, and gently activate the pelvic muscles under your fingers so that your pelvis tilts. Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl of water; lift enough to keep the water from spilling out either the front or the back. If you are not sure which muscles to use, you'll find them easily if you laugh or cough.