10 Walking Mistakes to Avoid

Walk Right for Better Workouts

Recognizing and Correcting Walking Mistakes

person walking in hiking boots

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Walking the right way can give you better health, fitness, and attitude. It can help you walk faster and more smoothly.

Walking the wrong way can lead to wasted effort or even injury, not to mention ridicule. Here are the 10 walking technique mistakes to avoid.

You will see many examples of people who think they are doing a great power walking stride when, in fact, they are doing themselves no good at all. Learn what doesn't work well, and why.

Walking Mistake: Overstriding

When you try to walk faster, a natural inclination is to lengthen your stride in front, reaching out farther with your forward foot. This leads to a clumsy, ungainly gait, striking hard with the feet. Your shins hurt and you really don't get any faster.

Correct This Walking Mistake

All of the power of your walk comes from pushing with the back leg and foot.

  • Shorter, quicker steps: If you are trying to walk fast, concentrate on taking shorter, quicker steps.
  • Roll through, push off: Think of really rolling through your step with your back foot and leg, getting a good push off.

The result will be faster feet and a longer stride where it does you some good - in back.

Walking Mistake: The Wrong Shoes

Not all "walking shoes" are good for walking. If this describes your shoes, you are setting yourself up for plantar fasciitis, muscle pulls, and knee problems:

  • Heavy: Walking shoes should be lightweight, while still providing support and cushioning.
  • Stiff: If your shoes have soles that won't bend at all and you can't twist them, they are too stiff for fitness walking. Walking shoes should be flexible so you don't fight them as your foot rolls through the step.
  • Over one year old: The cushioning and support in your shoes degrade over time. You should replace your shoes every 500 miles.
  • Too small: Your feet swell when you take a sustained walk. Your walking shoes should be larger than your dress shoes if you walk for 30 minutes or more for exercise. You may need bigger shoes.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Get fit for the right shoes at a dedicated running shoe store in your area. The athletic shoe experts will make sure you get the right shoe for overpronation, flexible enough for walking, and sized right for the swelling everyone's feet have while walking.

Walking Mistake: Walking Flat-Footed

Instead of rolling through the step with your forward foot from heel to toe, your foot is flattening out prematurely and you land flat-footed. Either you are fighting stiff, heavy shoes or your shins are too weak to let you roll through the step.

The symptoms include:

  • Your feet hit the ground with a slap.
  • You land flat-footed with each step and get no roll.
  • You may develop shin pain.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Get flexible shoes that bend at the ball of the foot. A pair of running shoes with a low heel is best.

To strengthen your shins, ankles, and lower legs:

  • Heel raises: Stand on a stair facing upstairs with your heels hanging over the edge. Dip the heels down, then raise them high. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
  • Foot fun: While sitting around, several times a day, tap your toes quickly for several seconds. Then write the alphabet in the air with your foot. Repeat with the other foot.
  • Heel walking: As part of your warmup, walk on your heels for 30 seconds.

Walking Mistake: Not Using Your Arms

It's a walking mistake to keep your arms still at your sides while walking, or to swing them without bending them.

It is natural to move your arms while walking to counterbalance your leg motion. But if you keep your arms stiff and straight at your sides, they act like a long pendulum, slowing you down. You can add power and speed by using your arms effectively and more naturally, by bending them and letting them swing naturally forward and back as you walk.

If you keep your arms straight down at your sides while walking, you may notice that your hands swell quite a bit while walking, especially in warm weather.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Use the right walking arm motion. Bend your arms 90 degrees and swing them naturally back and forth opposite the leg motion.

Walking Mistake: Wild Arm Motion

You're using your arms when you walk, but you're doing it wrong.

  • Straight flapping or paddling arms: You don't bend your elbows, your straight arms are flapping like a bird, paddling like a swimmer, or straight at your sides like ​a penguin as you walk.
  • Chicken winging: You bend your elbows, but swing them from side to side, with your hands crossing past the center of your chest and your elbows endangering other pedestrians.
  • High hands: Your fists come up on each swing past your breasts, up even to your chin or threatening your nose.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Keep your elbows close to your body and swing your arms mostly back and forward, as if reaching for your wallet from a back pocket on the backstroke. As they come forward, your hands should not cross the center line and should come up no further than your breasts.

This motion lets you concentrate on power from your arm swing without extraneous motion. It also loos far less silly. This arm motion allows your arms to swing faster, which speeds up your legs to power up your walk.

Walking Mistake: Walking With Your Head Down

You are always looking down, hanging your head and staring at your feet. Or you may be engaging in distracted walking, checking your mobile phone often (or continuously) while walking.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Good posture for walking allows you to breathe well and provides a long body line to prevent problems with your back, neck, and shoulders. The correct walking posture is to keep your chin up when walking—it should be parallel to the ground.

Your eyes should focus on the street or track 10 to 20 feet ahead. You'll avoid doggy doo-doo, find cracks in the sidewalk, spot potential muggers, and still collect the occasional coin.

While mobile phones provide a wealth of information and keep you connected, it's best to keep yours securely in a pocket while walking. Get Bluetooth earbuds that allow you to control your music and take or make calls while walking without needing to manipulate your mobile phone.

Walking Mistake: Leaning

The symptoms of this problem include:

  • You lean forward more than 5 degrees.
  • You lean back.
  • You have a sway back with or without a forward lean.

Somewhere you might have read to lean forward when walking. Or you may be leaning back on your hips. Leaning forward or backward or holding your back swayed can all result in back pain and do not contribute to speed or good technique.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Stand up straight but with relaxed shoulders, chin up and parallel to the ground. Think about walking tall. Your back should have a natural curve, do not force it into an unnatural sway with your behind stuck out back, and your stomach out forward.

Strengthen your abdominal muscles through crunches, planks, and other exercises so you are able to hold yourself straighter.

Walking Mistake: The Wrong Walking Clothes

Yes, clothes matter when you take a walk. Here are some common mistakes with choosing your walking clothing.

  • You are always wearing too much or not enough, and you end up sweaty and clammy in any weather.
  • You walk at night wearing dark-colored clothing with no reflective stripes or no safety vest.
  • No hat.
  • You wear uncomfortable shoes and restrictive clothing to work, so you rarely walk during the workday.

Correct This Walking Mistake

For walking comfort, dress in layers. The inner layer should be of a fabric such as CoolMax or polypropylene that will wick sweat away from your body to evaporate—not cotton, which holds it in next to the skin.

The next layer should be insulating—a shirt or sweater easily removed if you warm up. The outer layer should be a jacket that is windproof, and waterproof or water-resistant in wet climates.

Be visible at twilight, dawn and night with the right night walking gear. To prevent becoming a hood ornament, wear a mesh reflective safety vest bought at a local biking or running shop or put reflective strips on your night-time walking outfit. Many running shoes have reflective elements, but studies show it is best to have several reflective elements on to be seen from all directions.

Hats are essential equipment. They insulate you so you warm up faster. They shield the top of your head from the sun - an area where it is hard to apply sunscreen unless you are bald, but an area that still burns. Hats with visors also shield your face from sun exposure.

Dress for Walking Success at Work

Sitting still for long periods is associated with major increases in health risks, even if you manage dedicated workouts. If you sit all day at work, dress in clothing that will allow you to sneak in short walks every hour, even if it is marching in place in your cubicle. Switch to comfort shoes or bring along comfortable shoes you can slip on to walk during breaks and lunch.

Walking Mistake: Not Drinking Enough

You don't drink enough water before, during, and after walking.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Prepare for your walk by drinking a tall glass of water (17 ounces or 500 milliliters) two hours before you head out. This will allow time for any extra to pass through your body and be eliminated in your urine before you hit the pavement. During your walk, do a mental "thirst-check" every 15 minutes or so. If you are thirsty, consume enough water to make you feel comfortable. After you finish, drink a glass of water.

Avoid caffeinated beverages before your walk, they cause you to lose fluid, make you thirstier, and lead to inconvenient stops along the way. On walks over two hours, use an electrolyte-replacement sports drink and drink when thirsty. On long distance walks, drink when thirsty and be sure to replenish salt with a sports drink rather than drinking only water.

Walking Mistake: Overtraining and Not Crosstraining

You walk and walk and walk. But you have lost your enthusiasm. You feel tired, irritable. You always have aches and pains. You may be overdoing it.

Correct This Walking Mistake

Don't get stuck in a rut, follow these tips:

  • Rest. Take a day off at least once per week, plus take an easy day after a day with a long or hard workout. It allows your body to repair, build up muscle and the blood vessels that nourish them, and to store up some energy to get you back on the road again.
  • Sleep is also important for getting the full benefits of your workouts. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Choose an activity monitor or app that also tracks your sleep.
  • Balance walking with cycling and quad building exercises: Walking primarily exercises the muscles at the back of your legs—the calves, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. You can get off-balance if you don't do exercises that build your quads, such as bicycling, squats, and lunges.
  • Alternate your type of workout: If you just can't stand a true day off, do a workout of stretching, yoga, or upper body weight training instead of walking and lower body work.
6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.