10 Worst Pieces of Walking Advice That Could Hurt You

Don't End up in Disaster Following Bad or Outdated Advice

Everyone thinks they know how to walk and how walkers should train for long walks. But their advice may be dangerously off the mark. It may be outdated or it may apply to other sports, but not to walking. Take the bits of advice below with a grain of salt.


Drink, Drink, Drink (Outdated Advice)

Woman drinking water from water bottle
Manuela Larissegger/Cultura/Getty Images

Yes, you need to drink water before, during, and after a walk. But you can overdo it on a long walk if you constantly drink water and don't balance it with salt. That can lead to water overload and hyponatremia (dilution of salts in your body) on an endurance walk such as a half marathon or marathon. Hyponatremia can produce heart arrhythmias and has resulted in deaths at marathons. The current advice for distance walkers and runners is "Let thirst be your guide," and drinking when thirsty rather than forcing water at every opportunity.

For those training for a distance event such as a half-marathon, marathon, or walking the Camino de Santiago, weigh yourself before, during, and after a long training walk. If you are getting your hydration right, your weight will remain constant. If you gain weight, you are drinking too much.


You Don't Need Sports Drinks (Bad Advice for Long Walks)

Gatorade G2 in Sport Bottles
© Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport

Many walkers avoid sports drinks: They don't like the taste. They want to reduce calories. The drinks may upset their stomachs. But sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade contain salts and sugars that your body needs when walking for over an hour, especially in sweaty weather. These ingredients also help your body absorb water faster to prevent dehydration.

There are different strategies for rehydrating during your walk, but drinking according to thirst is one of the easiest methods. When your walk is going to be longer than two hours, a sports drink (or even a salty food such as pretzels) can help your body to absorb water and replace of salt and carbohydrates. Otherwise, you risk dehydration and/or hyponatremia.


You Don't Need to Eat Before Walking (Bad Advice)

eggs hash

Wendy Bumgardner 

Some people have a theory that if you start on empty, your body will burn even more calories and/or fat. But often you will find that you can't exercise as intensely if your body is already out of fuel, so the net effect is that you go easier or stop sooner—and burn fewer total calories.

Walkers may have metabolic syndrome or undiagnosed diabetes. Exercising without having had a light breakfast could upset their blood sugar levels enough to result in a medical emergency. Having a light meal so you don't start on empty is a good tactic.​


You Don't Need to Train; It's Just a Walk (Bad Advice)

Walker at 5K Walk/Run
John Moore / Getty Images News

If you haven't walked a half marathon charity walk recently, you might not think it worth training for. What could go wrong, it's just walking, right? Then you end up walking faster than planned in the excitement or to keep up with friends. Soon you feel shin pain and even develop blisters. Even worse, you might get a stress fracture or plantar fasciitis and need medical care.

These are problems you can avoid if you take a few months to train to walk with good form, build up your walking muscles, and toughen your feet. The answer to how far you can walk without training isn't the answer to how to get there feeling great without any injuries. This is doubly true for training for the marathon or training for the Camino de Santiago. And if you're looking to make a strong performance or beat a personal best at an event, training is essential even for shorter distances like 5 and 10Ks.


Just Walk as Far and as Fast as You Can (Bad Advice)

Long Road Ahead
PBNJ Productions/Blend Images/Getty Images

Even though you've been walking since you were about a year old, when you start walking for exercise it is important to build up gradually. Doing too much, too soon is one of the fast ways to end up back on the couch with sore muscles, achy joints, or even an injury. You'll be more likely to stick with a walking program if gradually increase your duration and frequency, and then focus on increasing your speed.

When training for a walking event, walkers may think they can cram any practice into the last couple of weeks before the event. But walking is an endurance exercise. Training gradually will help prevent stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. It has almost magical effects in increasing your endurance, stamina, and walking ease. Doing too much too soon can end your dreams of a half marathon or marathon this year.​ Start right with a ​10K walk training schedule for beginners.

As with any exercise, you should increase your walking time, distance, and intensity gradually. 


Wear Weights to Burn More Calories (Bad Advice)

Ankle Weights
Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

Nature didn't design us with 5-pound feet and 3-pound wrists. Adding extra weight at these points increases the stress on your ankles, shins, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, neck and back. Not in a good way, but in a way that can give you repetitive strain injuries, poor walking posture, and lasting aches and pains.

The right way to burn more calories while walking is to walk farther, and to walk faster so you can walk further in the same amount of time. Fitness walking poles are a better tool to increase the calories you burn per mile while reducing stress on your joints. Just say no to anything that adds weight to your feet, hands or wrists.​ Walking with weights may also slow you down negating your efforts to burn more calories.


Just Wear Your Old Shoes (Bad Advice)

New Shoe vs. Worn Sole 2x3
Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

As athletic shoes age, they lose their cushioning and support. Going out for a long walk with old, dead shoes can lead to shin splintsplantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and stress fractures. After 500 miles, your shoes might still look good but they are due for replacement. You can really feel the difference if you slip into a new pair of the same style. Simply adding insoles won't solve this problem, either.​ 


Trust This Map (Bad Advice)

Planning a Walking Route
Wendy Bumgardner

Some of us love maps, and now smartphones ensure you have a map handy whenever you want one. But when it comes to safety, rely on your eyes rather than the map. Google or Apple Maps may give you walking route directions that don't include safe crossings or sidewalks. Don't walk off a cliff following a map, GPS, or walking directions. Use your eyes and judgment and look both ways before crossing a busy road. It's your life at stake.


Wear New Shoes (Bad Advice)

Athletic Shoes
Westend61/Getty Images

When you buy shoes, they should feel great from the get-go. Never buy a pair that you think you need to break-in. But even great feeling shoes shouldn't be worn on a long walk right away. Even if you're wearing the same model, you body needs to adjust to the change so wear new shoes on a few shorter walks before going longer.

And if you have any doubt about the pair you bought, wear them around the house or on a treadmill to make sure that they are right for you. It will be easier to return them if you haven't worn them outside.

The worst-case scenario is wearing a new pair of shoes for a half marathon or marathon without a break-in period. The new shoes may lead to a stress fracture, muscle tear, or other major problem during the event.​


Don't Worry, Fluffy Loves Everybody (Bad Advice)

Dog Snarling and Attacking
Jonathan Kirn/The Image Bank/Getty

Petting a strange dog you meet along the walking path is always a risk. An uninvited touch may result in a bite. Even if the dog's human companion says it is OK to pet the dog, proceed with caution. Encounters can go badly, and you may end up needing stitches. It is even more difficult to know how to deal with an excited dog running off-leash without the owner in sight.

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