Walking is a great all-round exercise: it improves your cardiovascular system (stronger heart & lungs); it develops leg strength (quads – front thighs, hamstrings – rear thighs, glutes – bum muscles); and makes for a stronger core (stomach and back muscles).  It is also good for weight loss and can be as beneficial for treating mild depression as prescribed medication!  Added to those benefits, walking helps regulate blood glucose levels and can reduce blood pressure.

It can also be done by most people – just start where you are.  You don’t need to head off for long day-hikes in hills – you can start by walking up and back down your garden or road (in the dark if you’re self-conscious!).

Nearly seven years ago I weighed 23.5st (BMI 52, clothes size 32) and HATED walking with a passion.  I used to sweat profusely; got out of breath very quickly (even in flat Essex where I grew up); my whole body ached after only a few hundred metres.  When I drove to the supermarket to get my binge foods, I parked as close to the entrance doors as possible.  I dreaded friends and family suggesting that I go for a walk with them – I would end up looking like I’d had a shower in my clothes, had a bright red face, and it took a good hour to recover!  Add to this extreme embarrassment of being really slow and a feeling that I was a freak, or at least abnormal.

In October 2010 I started to deal with the underlying reasons of my overeating, and in Dec 2011 I started working with a Personal Trainer at my local gym.  With encouragement and support, the weight started coming off and my confidence began to grow.

My coach started me on short walks – nothing too strenuous – always keeping it enjoyable.  We tapped into my competitive nature, logging times and distances to beat next time.

Fortunately, I developed a love of walking in the rain (essential if living in the UK!)

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some exercises to help improve your walking and make it more enjoyable.  You can do them at home, many just using your own body weight, and some with minimal equipment which can be easily and cheaply purchased.

As with any new exercise regime, if you have any medical conditions / problems, make sure you get yourself checked by a GP or suitably qualified Personal Trainer (PT) prior to starting.  If you have ANY medical condition, ensure that your PT has at least a Level 3 Exercise Referral qualification, or ideally a Level 4 qualification in your specific condition.  You can check for these on the REPs website.  If in doubt, ask your PT to show you their certificates.  A Level 3 Personal Trainer is ONLY qualified to work with healthy clients.  

The Squat – this exercise has many variations, all of which help to strengthen your quadriceps (front of thigh), your hamstrings (rear thigh) and your gluteus maximus (bum muscles).  You use all of these muscles – and others – when walking, and they become particularly important when going up or down hills.

Don’t worry if you can’t get down as far as the chap in the picture – good technique is far more important than range of movement!

Some key points to bear in mind:

1 – Stand with your feet hip distance apart, feet facing forward or slightly turned out to the sides.  Keep your feet flat on the floor – don’t let your heels rise up.

2- Make sure your knees track forward, not cave in or lean outwards.  Ensure that they don’t go past your toes if possible.  If you struggle to gauge this, try doing the movement in front of a wall – stop when your knees touch the wall.

3 – Keep your back nice and straight.  Practice in front of a mirror if possible to check your posture.

4 – Breath normally throughout the movement.  Start with 5 squats, have a 1-min rest, and do another five.  Build up repetitions gradually over the weeks.

Sumo squat – this is a variation on the above exercise which targets more of your glutes.  You can watch a video of me performing a sumo squat with a kettlebell here.  You don’t need to use any weights to start with.  However as you get stronger, you can use heavy books, tin cans… whatever you have around the house or garden.  You can of course go and buy some dumbbells or kettlebells if you wish!  I’ll discuss the purchase and use of these in another article later on.

If you experience any problems, see a GP or Personal Trainer.

So… get out there and start walking.  Enjoy it.  Let me know how you get on via Twitter (@BigPictureLivin) and Facebook (BigPicture Living).

See you next time.