Is walking a bad choice for "bottom-heavy" people?

Is your community walking-friendly?  Credit: Photodisc
The sore thing

Im 40 and have exercised regularly for more than 20 years. For the past year, Ive had leg pain like never before, particularly in the backs of my thighs. I take one or two days off per week and stretch frequently, but my legs still hurt. Any suggestions?

Lisa Weinberg
Albertson, N.Y.

Its hard to make a diagnosis without more information. A visit to a sports medicine specialist is probably in order, especially if the pain came on all at once or followed a specific event, say, a three-legged race at a picnic. In general, anyone suffering from muscle pain should ask herself these questions:

1) Am I stretching correctly? As we age, tissues lose their elasticity, and a light but regular routine of stretching is critical. Slow, controlled movements without bouncing work best. Stretch after a walk, when muscles are warmest and loosest.

2) Whats changed? Are you walking more, faster, or on hillier terrain than before? If so, return to your previous levels until pain subsides, then work up gradually.

3) Do I need new shoes? Walking shoes should be replaced about every five months; more frequently if you log more than 20 miles a week or have a heavy gait. Worn shoes, even if they look fine, can affect not just feet, but all the way up to the hips.

4) What else am I doing? Weight lifting moves like squats can be tough on knees and hamstrings. Adding inline skating or biking can affect your walking muscles. Take on new pursuits gently.

The big-bottom line

I recently saw a fitness expert on TV recommending exercises for different body types. He said if you tend to be bottom-heavy, you shouldnt walk because it builds up hips. As a two- to three-mile-a-day walker, this concerns me. The expert suggested bicycling and jumping rope for people who gain weight in the rear.

Robin Monroe
Huntsville, Ala.

Either that expert is in the bicycle and jump rope business, or he simply hasnt spent much time studying walking. Though cycling and jumping rope can be great aerobic exercises, neither is any more effective than walking to get you fit, and neither is less likely to build muscles of the lower body.

In fact, in my observations of elite athletes, Id say competitive cyclists are actually more likely to have very developed gluteal muscles compared with competitive walkers, not the other way around.

As for fitness walking, it tends to reduce your hip girth over time in two ways. First, youre likely to reduce some of the fat that women commonly store around the hips.

Second, firming and strengthening the underlying muscles should create a trimmer, more flattering shape. Youd have to do some heavy weight training to substantially increase your muscle girth in that area; even then, youd only look fitter than ever.

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