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Functional Exercises: Walking

You never really think about what it takes to get out of a car or what it takes for you to look to your left and to your right. It seems you just learned it one day and it stuck with you, right? You don’t remember ever really learning it either. It’s not until these movements become a bit difficult to perform or you’re relearning how to do them that you realize the work it takes.

We have made it to the 7th functional exercise, walking. In case you missed the other posts on functional exercises, they are exercises that mimic movements you do in your daily life. They work to improve strength, balance, and coordination as well as joint range of motion and overall quality of life. Functional exercises recruit multiple muscle groups, which means they use more than one joint and take more energy to perform. A plus for fat loss. But these exercises use free weights, like dumbbells and kettlebells, or bodyweight instead of exercise machines. Exercise machines target one specific joint or group of muscles.

Now, back to walking. We weren’t born knowing how to walk but because we learned at an early age there is automaticity with it. Meaning, it takes little to no thought to successfully complete this functional movement.

If we learn to do this at a young age, why is it something we need to learn to do as an adult? Why is it REALLY so important?

Here’s why…

If you have pain when walking, there are a few things you must look at to relieve that pain. The first is your weight. Our joints weren’t built to handle heavy weight. Work on losing weight. There are a few posts on this blog to help you with this. Check them out here. If you missed the other six functional exercises you can find them at that link as well.

The next is how you walk. Proper gait mechanics is essential. Walking is innate, yes. But we didn’t necessarily learn the mechanics of walking. To walk you start with your heel. This is called the heel strike. After that, you should move to the middle of your foot, which is the midfoot strike. Next is your toes, also known as the forefoot strike. Here you should push off on all five toes. People tend to walk on either side of their foot instead of the entire foot and your feet should be pointed forward. Improper gait can cause hip, knee, and foot pain.

Your posture is just as important. You should be aware of how you hold your head and shoulders when walking. Your head should not jut forward and your shoulders should not be rounded forward. Keep your head back with your shoulders back and down, with your chest held high. Not paying attention to your posture while walking can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain.

Proper posture: Shoulders back, chest out and chin up.

The Upside of Walking

Walking improves cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness as well as muscle endurance. It works to prevent heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Walking helps to reduce body fat, maintain a healthy weight, and improve joint pain and balance. It also provides stress relief.

Your Knees Hurt but You Want to Walk

Start out small. On your first day walk until you’ve had enough. Don’t overdo it. No hills, just flat land. Give yourself a destination, walk to it and come back. Keep track of the time it takes. It’s fine if it’s just 10 minutes. You’ll progress that time eventually. Remember something is better than nothing. The next day, do the same. And the day after that too. The next week increase your distance and give yourself the time frame. This means you’ll have to walk a bit faster. Another option is to increase your time by 5 minutes and go a bit further. Make sense? You want to slowly increase your time and distance. Do what’s comfortable for you. This is your journey and no one else’s. You wouldn’t sign up to do a marathon (26 miles) when you haven’t completed a 5K (3.2 miles) right? Same logic.

Forms of Walking

  • Nature hikes

  • Meditative walks

  • Races and Walks for a cause

  • Group walks

  • City hikes

Muscles Used During Walking

  • Hamstrings

  • Quadriceps

  • Calves

  • Hips

  • Glutes

  • Muscles of the ankles

  • Abdomen

  • Back muscles

  • Shoulders (depending on speed)

To help you improve your walking try these exercises when you work out.

  • Heel Raises

  • Toe Raises

  • Marching in Place

  • Standing Bird Dogs

  • Balancing on One Leg

  • Forward Lunges

  • Sit to Stands

  • Side Steps

  • Lying Knee to Chests

  • Core Exercises

*As always with my posts, I choose exercises that are easy to find through Google.

Mental Health Break

Before I close out, I want to introduce a new segment I’ve decided to add to my posts, Mental Health Break. Recently I spent eight and a half days in a mental health hospital. Depression from a series of events (multiple deaths in my family, including my very own puppy, and a move) caused me to go into a manic episode, which in turn led to a diagnosis of Bipolar 1.

I’ve always been mum about my personal life so talking to someone about what I was going through was unimaginable. But I’m learning it’s necessary. I thought I could process it all in my head. Those thoughts sent me into a downward spiral because I couldn’t do what I always do, figure it out. Talking to someone, not just your friends and family but someone who is unbiased helps. It helps you to get a perspective on things and allows you to process what you’re going through. Therapists provide you with the tools necessary to handle the issues that come with life.

If you’re not feeling like yourself, find a therapist and get it out, please. The physical is only a part of the whole. Work on your mind and soul as well.

This is the last of the series of functional exercises. It is my hope that you have found this to be helpful in your journey. This is not the end, I promise. I’m just getting started!

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers are welcomed. This journey is not easy but it’s definitely one that I’m learning to enjoy. I wish you well on yours.

Enjoy pics from hikes and races I've done mostly from this year.


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