Itís Not "Just" Walking Anymore

by Patti Finke

Ambling, strolling, hiking, walking, treadmill walking, mall walking, fast or speed walking, power walking, volkswalking, and race walking. Those are words you hear used to describe walking and are all useful ways to walk for exercise. Many walkers do not know the differences and what walking is and can be in today's exercise world. Walking to me is a wonderful way to receive fitness and have fun. I walked in the last couple of miles of the Honolulu marathon with a Team in Training walker. She told me that in August she had walked 2 miles down the hill to her mailbox and had a terrible time getting home. Here it was December and she was completing the marathon and was dressed in shorts and a singlet (which she thought she'd never be seen wearing). She was so proud of herself !

What I often hear is " yeah. I did ______, but I "just" walked it! " This is one of my pet peeves. Never apologize for doing something you enjoy, for something you worked hard to complete or compete in. The only time the adjective "just" should apply to walking is when you are competing in a walk only event, when the only way you can legally compete is to just walk ( no running allowed).

Ambling is what my friends and I do when we walk to the Rose Garden ( the real one where the flowers grow) in June and go up and down the rows smelling the flowers, discussing and enjoying the blooms. It's a way to look at the sights or maybe walk with small children and discover nature and other sights.

Strolling should be a part of every walk. It is one way to warm up and cool down . It's that slow, easy, arms down, way of getting the body either prepared to work harder or to relax and get rid of waste products from more strenuous exercise. Warm up and cool down are components of fitness that are so essential for staying healthy and the part that many walkers forget. They seem to think that they can go out the door and "hit it" without preparing the body first. They also want to get it done and I see many walkers doing their fastest sprint at the end, then getting in the car to go home. Funny how hard it is to get out of the car when you've not cooled down properly. Warm up and cool down count as part of your exercise time or distance. Strolling can also be a useful sightseeing or companionship kind of walking. It is a good recovery exercise after completing an event such as a marathon or a fast paced relay.

Hiking is walking in the woods. Yes, it counts as exercise and is often harder than walking on the streets because there are hills, both up and down and rough terrain. It is a great strength building workout as well as a way to see wonderful out of the way places. We are lucky in Portland to have Forest Park within our city limits so we can hike anytime. We are surrounded by scenic places such as the Gorge and the Cascades where we can hike for much of the year. There are many hiking books with trails and tips available. Remember that when you hike you need to take water, food, appropriate clothing and some safety gear depending on where and how long you plan to be out.

Mall walking and treadmills are what walkers use to stay warm and dry in the winter. Some malls have specific walk hours and some are open early just for walking. Most mall walkers are seniors and many have infirmities making the mall an inappropriate place to do speed work. A number of Anchorage Team in Training walkers did 14 miles in the mall preparing for the Honolulu marathon. Not my favorite, but a good choice in sub 20 degree weather. Treadmills are a good substitute for outdoor walking especially in the dark and wet. You do, however, need to spend some time on the road if you are preparing for a road event. Treadmills can be used to add strength to your workouts by increasing the incline. And also speed to your workouts by increasing the pace appropriately. But be warned, I have seen a number of injuries from walking on an incline all the time so it is best to vary your routine.

Volkswalking is a non competitive, non-timed walk. Most of these are 10 kilometers and there are maps for year round courses. You can find one or more every weekend in the local area. They're free unless you want to pay for pins and awards. Information is available at

Speed, fast and power walking are used to describe faster more efficient ways of walking. Power walking was a technique used to increase heart rate by increasing your arm swing way forward and up. It does raise the heart rate, but it is not efficient and can cause back problems since the high arm swing creates abnormal back action. Fast or speed walking is a method in using efficient ways of weight transfer and push off to increase speed and to use less energy while walking. Fast walking is a motor skill that takes practice and specific technique. There are many races that have competitive and noncompetitive walking divisions and/or events. They range from 5K's to relays to marathons, all of which could be more fun if you had better technique. The bent arm swing is the beginning key to weight transfer. If you try a little jogging, you see that your arms automatically come up to a bent position. If you want to walk faster, try working on the bent arm swing. The arms are bent at an 85-95 degree angle with the thumbs up and the hands gently curled. The swing goes forward and back either straight forward or slightly to the side. A way to practice this is to imagine you are taking a ticket out of one of those "wait until your number is called " dispensers and putting it in your pocket. This brings the arms forward and back beyond the waist. The back swing is what raises the hip to begin weight shift. The next task is to improve the posture. If you can see your feet, your head is too far forward. Hold your head erect and look about 15 - 20 feet in front of you. Your tummy or pelvis should be tucked in, no "Groucho" position. The body weight should be forward over the balls of the feet or the toes to get a good push-off. A good way to improve the posture is to work your abdominals - pelvic tilts and crunches done slowly and carefully. Stop when they burn and more is not always better. Take a class in walk technique through the "Fit'N Fast Program if you want more help. E-mail Ellie ([email protected]) or call 292-2050. If you want to walk the marathon, join the Portland Marathon Training Clinics, call(503) 244-0902 or look at

Race walking is a specific way of walking that is competitive. It can be defined as a progression of steps taken so that the walker is in visible (to the human eye) contact with the ground at all times. The advancing leg must be straight from first contact with the ground until in the vertical position. It is a definite motor skill that requires lots of practice and good hip and low back mobility. There are competitive judged race walk divisions in many local events. For information see

Remember, no matter how you want to walk, treat yourself to a good pair of shoes. Walking shoes may or may not be the appropriate footwear for you and your goals. Visit your local technical running store and let them help you choose a pair that will work for you. The most important part is to enjoy what you're doing. My favorite is to be out in the woods on a trail somwhere. Find yours!

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