The Manly Walk - How to Start Men Walking

Group of Men Walking in Blue Shirts
Men Walking. Susan Chiang/E+/Getty Images

Let's face it. Walking fast looks silly. . . even prissy. When you talk to a man about walking, this is his first thought. We equate walking with oddly dressed seniors circling the mall, much older than we imagine ourselves to be.

We remember seeing those racewalkers on the Olympics late at night after all the really popular events like the biathlon and triple jump are over. Strutting in that odd, rhythmic style.

Arms flailing and hips. . . well, the hips just look . . . goofy. This is one of the major reasons why men resist walking. Trust me on this. I don't claim to represent male opinions on all subjects, but on this one I am confident.

Overcoming Men's Resistance to Walk

The problem with this approach is that men need to walk for their health. Their companions would often like them to walk as well. So if you are a walker and find yourself trying in vain to get a male friend or spouse or POSSLQ (person of opposite sex sharing living quarters) to start walking too, you may find my own experiences helpful. Here are some ideas on how to target the male psyche and get them on the road to walking health.

Dangling the Bait

The Health Wake-Up Call
About three years ago, a physical examination found that my blood pressure was higher than it should be. It made me angry. I refused to allow my self-image to lean even slightly in the wrong direction.

Even with that incentive, when my doctor suggested walking to lower my blood pressure I found myself going through some distinctly male obstacles to get to the point where I was benefiting from the exercise.
More: Walking to Reduce Hypertension

The Need for Speed
At first, it was just walking to be walking.

Being generally athletic, however, it was hard for me to just walk. It was too slow. It wasn't long before I began reading more about the benefits of certain techniques and proper form. I learned about target heart rate and how much time it should take me to walk a mile.
How to Walk Faster

The Subtle Challenge
I tend to seek out this kind of information on my own. If your target male doesn't, you may have to help them out with little tidbits. "Honey, did you know that a healthy walker is taking over 150 steps per minute?" It may sound innocent, but I guarantee you that any male worth his gender will be counting steps under his breath on the way through the parking lot. He can't help himself.

Once you have that male person's interest, you've got to get him up off the couch cushions and on to the streets. If they MUST, tell them that they don't have to let go of the remote control and can bring it along. In fact, tell them they should have one in each hand to balance their muscle toning (they will believe this story initially, but only for a few seconds).


Setting the Hook

If you are legitimately trying to get a significant other who happens to be male to walk and to stick with it, you might consider some of the barriers I crossed to get started. These tempting offers have genetic cubby holes inside the male mind and one or more of them will find some acceptance.

  • Pretend you are hiking. When I first started, it was no big deal. Just start walking. I can do that. The doctor had given me a goal to shoot for - 15 minutes a mile, 30 minutes per day, four to five days per week. Being a hiker, it was easy to think about just taking a walk. Hiking is farther up the manliness scale than walking. "I'm just hiking, thank you." It worked for me as a way to get started. The key thing is just to get started.
  • Bend your arms, but only when no one is looking. There it was in the walking book, in black and white. "If you want to improve your pace, you must use the bent arm technique." It might as well have said that I had to wear a tutu and wave a magic wand. This was what the male in me feared the most. I had to walk. . . THAT way. I had to get that funky power walking, race walking, mall strutting kind of gait if I wanted to go faster.

    When I realized I had to bend my arms to walk faster and therefore get my heart rate up, it was a shock. If a car drove by, I couldn't be just out for a hike, I would be "walking." Then I found the perfect solution for the male mind (at least my own feeble version of it) carry small hand weights in those bent arms!

    "No, I'm NOT power walking, I'm carrying these weights to increase the circumference of my biceps by miniscule amounts!" It worked for a while to lower my sensitivity to gawking passers-by, but then I read it was not beneficial and could in fact cause some undue strain. So the weights went away, but the bent arm stuck around.

  • Poor health really sucks. This is tricky ground to tread, but it helped me to get angry about being unhealthy, even in the slightest. I might never have started if it wasn't for the fact that I REFUSED to have high blood pressure. It did not fit my self image and was just enough to get me going. I knew it would be something that I had to stick with, not something temporary.

    If you can help your male target get tired of being overweight or out of breath or just plain inactive, it might help give them the internal motivation to get underway. Careful in how you do this.. . we have tender egos.

  • No, you DO NOT have to wear "those" shoes. If you go to the store at the mall to ask for walking shoes (you know the stores where they sell shoes to people who want to look cool and stylish) they will point to some awful looking stuff with this look of chagrin and disgust. There must be a super-duper expert specialist somewhere who has research to support the concept that good walking mechanics are promoted by wearing shoes that look like something out of cozy old Aunt Flossie's closet.

    After learning more, I now know that "walking" shoes are really not the best for walking fast. A lower heel and a flexible midsole are best if you want to pick up speed. Comfort counts in the beginning, so just about anything comfortable is okay, even hiking boots (see "its like hiking" section above.) At some point, however, shoes will be a make or break kind of decision. Get the right thing. More: Top Picks for Fitness Walking Shoes
  • Data data data. This was the real clincher for me. This was where I got seriously hooked. I bought a Polar Accurex NightVision II heart monitor. Is that a cool name or what? Sounds like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would wear for his next assault. I soon found myself with a surveyor's wheel and a can of spray paint marking my street in quarter mile increments.

    I am data driven and I think many other males will be as well. Start a log. Log anything. How many days did you walk this week? What are your total miles? Getting any faster? Getting your heart rate in the target zone? Log anything but weight. It may change, but it is not the data that you really need.

    This was a miraculous turn of events for me. I could now see my progress on paper. I knew how fast I could walk each quarter mile, how many steps to take per minute to maintain my pace, how fast to get my heart pumping. I had lined paper with every detail.

    If this all sounds a little anal. . . well. . . it kind of is. Males are of the gender that can sequence the lures in their tackle box but can't seem to find the dishwasher. Seeing the results of my sweaty sashaying in black and white was the motivation I needed. A little information goes a long way and for me, it was what got me hooked on getting fit by walking.

    One final story. One particularly hot and humid afternoon here in Texas, I was walking the back road near my house. I was about 20 minutes into a three-mile walk and moving quickly. I normally wear tights rather than shorts because they are easier on areas susceptible to chafing (WARNING: DO NOT mention chafing until later).

    I heard this car coming up from behind me and then heard the engine slow to an idle.

    I don't normally look back, avoiding the look that would admit I'm a serious walker, but instead just walk into oncoming traffic. Then I heard a female voice say, "Hey fella.. . nice butt."

    In the flash that it takes to have those brief thoughts, I was pretty proud of myself. The exercise MUST be paying off, I thought. Women are stopping on the side of the road to compliment my tush, I thought. What more motivation could a man need?

    I told my wife thanks, gave her a kiss and told her I would meet her at home in a few more minutes. I had some good health to pursue.

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