Learn to Walk Faster

by Patti Finke, MS, Team Oregon

How can I walk faster? This one the most frequent questions I am asked.

There are a couple of answers. The simplest one is to walk more. As you spend more time out there walking, you will get more efficient and more fit and, therefore, faster.

The best answer is to walk more and to do some speedwork and technique drills. Walking is a motor skill and requires practice of the skill for the body to improve. There is a point where speed is limited by technique, not by fitness level. How do you learn technique? There are a number of books you can read and classes that you can take. But you must practice, practice, practice.

Breathing: If you find yourself panting with short quick breaths as you work harder, you need to work on diaphragmatic or "belly breathing". When you inhale, the abdominal muscles relax, the belly goes out, the diaphragm drops down and the lungs fully inflate. When you exhale, the abdominal muscles force the air out and help the lungs expel all the air making room for more new air. To practice, start by blowing out all your air and then inhaling through your mouth and nose with your hands on your belly making sure you are using those muscles. Then try to exhale and inhale completely using this technique. One way to practice is to lie down with a book on your belly and work on moving it up and down. The end result of this type of breathing is that the shoulders relax and you can get in all the air you need.

Fast walking is accomplished by faster weight shift from one leg to the other. The arms play a major role in this activity. One easy way to get faster and more efficient is to learn the correct bent arm technique. First walk faster with a straight arm swing and notice how far forward and back your arms go. The hands comfortably pass behind the waist and often past the buttocks. They do not go up on the front. Then bend your arms at about 90 degrees (85 -95) and repeat the activity. The hand should be at waist height, should not cross in the front and should not be much above chest height in the front. To practice, think about taking a number ticket like at the DMV or local bakery that's about waist high and putting it in your pocket. The most common arm use mistakes I see are side to side motion across the body (not working to help you move forward), and bringing the arms too high in front (which pushes you backward and creates lower back problems).

The correct fast walking posture is different from correct standing posture. It is more forward. Stand comfortably with your tummy tucked in and your weight over your heels. Then lean forward with both feet until you feel your heels are just about to lift. You nose should be over your toes and your hips should be over the middle to front of your feet. The correct arm swing is aided by this posture. One posture mistake is leaning back with too high an arm swing. The other is what we call "groucho" posture or curvature of the back with straight arms. Both are bad for low backs. The head should be up, don't look at your feet.

Stride Length
If your weight is in the proper place, the length of the walking stride is back behind in the push off and works to propel you forward. The foot is extended a short distance forward and the landing is on a straight knee. The knee should not be locked, but kept straight as it passes underneath your body.
Faster paces are achieved by increasing turnover, not stride length. If you are reaching out in front of you with your foot, you are overstriding.

Go to your local high school track. Track etiquette dictates that the inside lanes are reserved for the fastest movers. Never use the inside lane, it's for racing. When warming up, use one of the outer 3 lanes of the track. You can use lane 2 when doing your speedwork. Most tracks are 400 meters. Notice that they can be divided into 4 equal 100 meter sections - 2 straight and 2 curved sections. Most have some kind of marking showing these divisions.

Speedwork schedule

Week 1 Stroll 4 laps, walk 4 laps on the line between lanes 1 and 2 as fast as you can and write down your time. This will be your one mile walk time. Stroll 4 laps

Week 2 Warm up and cool down listed above.

Week 3 Warm Up. Walk 1 x 800( 2 laps) at projected race pace. Pick a pace about 1minute per mile slower than your one mile walk time. Cool down.

Week 4 Warm up. Walk 3 x 800*(2 laps) at projected race pace. Stroll 400 meters in between each 800 Cool down

*NOTE: 3 x 800 means do an 800 (2 laps) 3 times.

Week 5 Warm up. Walk 2 x 1200(3 laps) at race pace. Stroll 400 m between the 1200's. Cool down.

Week 6 Warm up. Walk 1 x 1600(4 laps) at race pace, cool down.

Week 7 Warm up. Walk 4 x 800 at race pace, stroll 400 in between. cool down.

Week 8 Warm up. Walk 2 x 1600 with 400 stroll in between. Cool down.

Week 9 Warm up. Walk 2 x 800 with 400 stroll in between. Cool down.

Week 10 Race. Taper 3 days before by dropping mileage for each day in half. Take off the day before or stroll 15 -20 minutes.

Warm Up
Every workout session should be started with a warm up. For speedwork, stroll 4 laps easy, work on relaxing by using the belly breathing. Keep you shoulders and back relaxed. If you have something that's tight, you may do a little light stretching. Never stretch until you have warmed up. You might want to warm up shins a little more by standing on one foot and flexing the other up and down and rotating it. Repeat on the other foot.

4 x 200 with 200 stroll
Walk 200 meters or half way around the track as fast as you can. Work on arm swing as you do. Then stroll the other half. Repeat 3 more times alternating working on breathing, arm swing and posture. Your shins probably hurt the first couple of 200's. If so, do more warm up on them, by lifting and rotating your foot.

1 x 400 looseners
Spend one lap doing more loosening up. March with high knees 50 meters or half of the straight using bent arm swing, then stroll 50 meters. Skip 50 meters with bent arms, then stroll 50 meters. Stroll and hunch up shoulders by inhaling, then, relax and exhale, repeat until you feel your shoulders drop and relax.

2 x 400 with 400 stroll
Walk 400 meters or one lap as fast as you can concentrating on the smooth arm swing, note your posture. Make certain that you can feel your weight forward as you push off. Keep your head up look about 15 feet in front of where you are putting your feet. Stroll 400 meters. Repeat.

Cool Down
After the speedwork, cool down by strolling 4 laps. Now you can stretch those calf muscles and the hamstrings really well.

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