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Bad Walking Habits Every Walker Should Quit, Say Experts

Cut out these small bad habits and you're guaranteed to get more out of your daily strolls.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

If you're serious about walking for exercise, you already know that walking isn't as simple as lacing up your shoes and hitting the pavement. If you're going out for brisk walks at longer distances, you need to practice proper form, you need to bring the right stuff, and you need to avoid a few bad habits that far too many avid walkers don't even realize they're guilty of doing. Are you serious about walking your way to a leaner, fitter body and a longer, healthier life? Read on for a few bad habits you shouldn't do, courtesy of some top walking experts. And for more ways to rethink your walks, make sure you're up to speed on The Worst Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Walking, Says Olympic Walker.

1

You're Carrying Your Water Bottle

Slim girl in tight sportswear with bottle of water standing outdoors among green grass summer nature, middle back view.

Every serious walker has gone out toting his or her favorite water bottle on hot days. But if you can purchase a belt to attach it to, you'd be doing your body a favor, as carrying things while walking for long distances can take its toll.

"If you are going on a long walk, carrying a water bottle in your hand is not the best plan," says Jeanette DePatie, CPT, author of The Fat Chick Works Out! and founder of Everybody Can Exercise. "Use a waist holster, hydration backback, or special water bottles for running. Gripping your water bottle in one hand is likely to cause swelling and you won't be balanced with the other arm. Also, it's not a great idea to use ankle or wrist weights as this puts undue stress on the joints and tends to throw your stride off balance." And for more tips on becoming a better walker starting now, see here for The Secret Tricks for Walking for Exercise, According to Walking Specialists.

2

You're Wearing the Wrong Shoes

slow walker from behind on a street, wearing jeans

"There's a reason why when you enter a sports store you'll find several types of shoes divided by category," says John Gardner, a NASM-certified personal trainer and CEO of the training platform Kickoff. "Many people mistake walking as an exercise that can be done with any fitness shoes."

He goes on: "When walking, you need to ensure your shoes are comfortable, provide protection to the Achilles tendon, have a foam or gel midsole to provide enough cushioning and support while walking and fit correctly. Each shoe has specs to help support the foot according to the movement done within that sport and wearing the wrong shoes can harm your knees, ankles and make you feel uncomfortable while walking."

His advice is to find a pair of either walking or runner shoes that is suitably flexible yet has the right amount of comfort and conditioning for you. If you try on a pair at a store and you don't fall in love, don't buy them.

3

You're Walking With the Wrong Partner

Sports couple in the park in the morning. They are engaged in long-distance running. Heart training cardio system in the fresh air, useful for blood vessels. Comfortable sportswear.

If you have a walking partner, it's important that they walk at the same pace as you do, says Shawn Anderson, a motivational speaker and self-styled walking expert who has walked thousands of miles across at least seven countries over the last few years. (His fastest walk was 550 miles in 27 days across the whole of Spain.) "Walking with a partner much faster than you and you'll risk getting hurt," he says. "Walk with a partner much slower than you" and you won't get the workout you need.

Science backs him up: A new study published in the academic journal Gait & Posture found that couples who go walking together end up walking at a much slower pace. If the couple was the hand-holding type? Their speed went down even further. "If someone substantially slows down when they are walking with someone else, that could negate some of the health benefits recognized if they walked alone at a faster pace," said Libby Richards, Ph.D., MSN, RN, CHES, an associate professor of nursing at Purdue University, which conducted the study.

4

You're Not Swinging Your Arms Correctly

Slim sporty young girl walking on street

Walking experts always note that your arms are the unsung heroes of proper walking. When you walk with straight arms, you'll actually be slowing yourself down and reducing the efficient transfer of energy throughout your body. If you keep your arms bent 90 degrees—and keep your elbows tucked in closer to your sides—your arms will drive backwards and forwards, and you'll have a much more efficient transfer of energy.

"It's fairly natural for people to allow their arms to hang by their sides during a workout. For a short walk, this is probably fine. However over longer distances or time sequences blood will pool in the extremities (the fingers) and you'll get swollen hands," says DePatie. "It's only moderately uncomfortable. But you can avoid this problem altogether if you bend your arms at the elbow and swing them up and across your body. Also, be sure not to squeeze your hands into tight fists, but rather curl the fingers loosely." And for at least one great way to increase the intensity of your walks, see Why This Crazy-Popular Walking Workout Totally Works, Say Experts.

5

You're Not Wearing Sunscreen

man applying sunscreen
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It's one thing to head out for a quick one-mile run without sunscreen. It's something else altogether to hit the pavement for a 2-hour walk. "It might be tempting to skip the sunscreen if it looks a little cloudy out there, but you never know when the weather will change," says DePatie. "Avoid the problem by always slathering up before you go out."

6

You're Constantly Landing Flat-Footed on the Ground

A picture of a walker having problems with ankle in the forest

If you hear a smack when your foot hits the ground, chances are you're doing it all wrong. Not only is this bad for the smooth transfer of energy that walking requires, but it also may lead to pain. Instead, you should embrace the roll of the movement.

"To be a better walker, your heel should strike the ground first, then roll to the ball, then push off the big toe," says Joe Vega, C.S.C.S., the founder of The Vega Method. And for really ramping up your daily walks, see here for 4 Amazing Ways to Lose Weight While Walking for Just 20 Minutes, According to a Top Trainer.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more
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