10 Walking Mistakes to Avoid

Walk Right for Better Workouts


Recognizing and Correcting Walking Mistakes

Woman Walking the Wrong Way - Straight Arms and Overstriding
Walking with straight arms and overstriding - two mistakes in one!. Maxime Laurent/Getty Images

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

Walking Stride - Overstriding and Correct Strides
Walking stride - overstriding and correct strides. Kzenon and Amickman/Depositphotos

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

Walking Legs
The right walking shoes. altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

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, sized right for the swelling everyone's feet have while walking.


Walking Mistake: Walking Flat-Footed

Treadmill Walking
PeopleImages.com/DigitalVision/Getty Images

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, ankle, and lower leg:

  • Toe 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

Use Your Arms!
Use your arms when walking. Vasko Miokovic Photography/E+/Getty Images

It's a walking mistake to keep your arms still at your sides while walking or 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

Wild Arm Motion - Straight Arm and High Hand
Wild arm motion - straight arm and high hand. David Madison/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You've been told it's a mistake to not use 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.

Our model here is doing two of those—she has a straight arm on the back swing and her hand is coming up too high in front on the forward swing. She is also overstriding.

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 arm motion will give power to your walk. Your feet generally move only as fast as your arms.

This motion lets you concentrate on power from your rear leg without wasting motion in front of your body. It also looks far less silly.


Walking Mistake: Walking With Your Head Down

Woman Briskly Walking on Ocean Shore
Ruslan Dashinsky/E+/Getty Images

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

Great Walking Posture
Great walking posture. Gary John Norman/Image Source/Getty Images

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. Think "suck in your gut, tuck in your butt." Your back should have a natural curve, do not force it into an unnatural sway with behind out back stomach out forward.

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

The model here has great walking posture as well as keeping her head up and good arm motion.


Walking Mistake: The Wrong Walking Clothes

Walkers with the Right Walking Clothes
Walkers with the right walking clothes. Hero Images/Getty Images

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, end up sweaty and clammy in any weather.
  • You walk at night wearing dark-colored clothing with no reflective stripes or a 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 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

Two women with water bottles on beach
Walking with water bottles. andresr/E+/Getty Images

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

Correct This Walking Mistake

Drink a glass of water every hour throughout the day to stay hydrated. Ten minutes before your walk, drink a glass of water. During your walk drink a cup or more of water every 20 minutes, or simply drink when you feel thirsty. 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

Wiping Face with Towel on Treadmill
Worn out?. Hero Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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 ofwWorkout: 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.
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