Before you get startedWednesday 2 May 2012
A reality check - make sure you’re OK to walk; Basic gear you’ll need - shoes, your feet, and useful clothing.
A reality check
Walking is nice and easy on your body, but when you start you may notice a few aches and pains - your body just needs a bit of time to adjust to this new activity thing.
Learn to listen to your body - if you’re quite sore after a walk it was probably too something - too hard, too long, too fast. If part of you really hurts, ease off a bit to allow recovery or, even better, check with someone who knows about injuries in case you need to do something more. A bit of an ache from your last walk is probably ok, but it should fade as you do your next warm-up. If not, do a slow or easy walk to avoid strain or injury, or get advice.
Walking will let you know about any problem areas in your body that you need to deal with before you start to add longer distances into the mix - stuff like particularly tight muscles you could target with stretching exercises, or foot or ankle problems that need a shoe insert.
Make sure you’re healthy enough to walk.
Get your doctor to give you the ‘all clear’ before you start if you:
- haven’t done exercise for more than a year.
- are pregnant.
- are over 65 years old and aren’t currently exercising.
- get chest pains, especially when you’re doing something active.
- have been diagnosed with heart problems.
- Have high blood pressure.
- have diabetes.
- feel faint or have severe dizzy spells.
- or have some another medical condition.
If your doctor doesn’t think walking is a good move for you, ask about other activities that’ll still give you heaps of benefits.
Basic equipment - feet and shoes.
Meet the feet
Since it’s your feet doing the walking you’ll want to care for them. Part of that means knowing what they need, and a big part of that is about having the right shoe.
What you don’t need is a mega-expensive pair of custom shoes, but you MUST have shoes that fit well, that work with your feet, and are designed for walking - not for basketball, or climbing, or the dance floor, or even for running or cross-training.
You can tell a lot about how your feet work by the wear pattern on the soles of your existing shoes. That pattern is caused by the apparently simple process called foot strike; how your foot connects with the ground as you walk or run.
In normal foot strike your heel lands first, followed by your midfoot (the bit between your heel and toes). When your midfoot takes the weight, the arch of your foot tends to flatten to absorb impact, and then the weight moves onto the ball or front of your foot before pushing off for the next step.
Here’s why that info is important.
If the inner edge of your shoes wears out first, your foot is probably rolling inwards as you walk - something called ‘pronation’. This is caused when the arch flattens as your foot lands - if you have flat feet, for example. When you have lots of pronation this can lead your ankle and leg to twist, and the stress this puts on your leg can result in inflammation, breaks, and other related nasties.
In contrast is the pattern where your arch doesn't flatten so your foot doesn't roll in at all, meaning you don’t get much shock absorption as your foot lands. This is called ‘supination’, and a high level of supination can lead to painful stuff like ankle sprains, an inflamed Achilles tendon (behind your ankle) and inflammation of the ligament tissue that stretches from the heel through to the front of the foot. If the inner edges of your shoes wear out first this movement pattern may apply to you.
What all this means for shoe choice
Pronation and supination are two of the common patterns of foot movement that can cause problems when you start to do regular walking, and which the right shoes will be crucial to correct.
• Those who have flat feet (wear on the inner edges of the soles) need to avoid soft shoes and find a type with firm midsoles and features to control pronation. There are also different kinds of arch support inserts which can help get your foot working properly and comfortably - good shoe shops and some chemists will have these if they’re necessary.
• If it looks like you’ve got the opposite pattern you’ll be better off with shoes that are not only well cushioned but that also don’t restrict the movement of your foot. Shoes which work for pronation, for example, will have features that provide a level of stability and movement control that are the opposite of what your foot needs.
• If your foot works about right as it lands, flexes and lifts off, you’ve got what they call a ‘neutral’ foot, so you’re good for any walking shoe that feels comfortable and works for your foot shape.
A really good idea is to buy your shoes in person (not online), and preferably at a shop that knows about sports shoes - they’ll also tend to have staff who walk and run. Different types and brands of walking shoes will work better or worse for different foot types, so having somewhere with a range of walking shoes and the expertise to match your foot to the right shoe will save money, hassle -and pain. At the shop they should assess your foot strike and other features of your feet to get this foot-to-shoe match right.
Some general hints:
• Walking shoes have to cope with lower impacts than running shoes, so they tend to be more flexible around the toe than a running shoe. Can you bend and twist the toe area of your walking shoe?
• Walking heats your feet up, so breathable shoes that use mesh fabrics will be more comfortable - and lighter - than shoes with all solid panels.
• If you’ve been wearing your shoes for a long time or they’ve just had heavy use check that they still do their job. Go to a shoe shop that carries that same shoe model (or a new version) and compare yours and the new ones; if you really feel the difference walking around the shop it’s time to dump the old pair because they’ve stopped supporting your feet.
Trying shoes on
- Feet swell up during the day and as they warm up, so get fitted when your foot is its largest - at the end of the day is often a good time.
- Look for just over one centimeter of room from the end of your longest toe to the inside front of the shoe.
- Don’t cramp your toes; go for a shoe that’s as wide as possible across the toe and the ball area (the wide area just back from the toes). Can you wiggle your toes a bit? The rest of the fit should be reasonably snug so that your heel doesn’t lift out of the back of the shoe as you walk.
- Wear the socks you wear when you’re walking - don’t rely on your work socks or the ones in the shop.
- There's no real "breaking in" period for walking shoes, they should feel comfortable right away. Don't buy a shoe if you can feel seams, ridges or stitching against your foot.
- Many people have one foot larger than the other, so make sure you try on both shoes before you buy. If you have one larger foot then the shoes that fit that foot are the ones to buy.
Remember, you don't have to break out the gold card for a pair of shoes, just a pair that fit you well and are designed for the job.
Other basic gear
Clothing: Definitely good idea if you’re walking in a public place (!), but beyond that don’t stress about having ‘the right gear’! In warmer weather or once you start to feel comfortable pushing your pace and effort it’s worth looking at clothing made from some kind of ‘wicking’ material. Most sportswear will use this fabric - it’s specially designed to draw sweat away from your skin and to dry out quickly, so you avoid that ‘wet rag’ feeling of clothing like cotton T-shirts.
Clothes made from wicking material also ‘breathe’ better, so you stay cooler as exercise heats you up, and they tend to be more comfortable because they’re lightweight and they generally use flat seams to avoid chafing. Just remember that you’ll soon warm up, so the amount of clothing you start your walk in might feel over-hot after 5 minutes.
Socks: Socks made of wool like merino, synthetics like polypropylene, or a blend of these will be better than cotton because they’ll dry quickly and wick moisture away from your foot. Sport socks will have padding around the sole which will resist compression, which helps prevent blisters.
As for gear, that’s about it - simple huh?