Cross-training for walkers

Three exercises to help improve your walking speed and endurance
By Barb Gormley

Cross-training for walkers

Brisk walking is, of course, one of the best exercises for ultimate health and fitness. But if you want to improve your walking speed and endurance – and you're already walking several times per week – don't simply add more walking. Instead, complement your walking workouts with alternative types of physical activities.

The trick to cross-training is choosing activities that challenge your muscles in different ways than walking does. Walkers usually have strong, powerful legs but suffer from weaker core muscles and arms, overworked knees and hips and tight leg muscles. Try adding one or more of the following exercises to your weekly regime to keep your body well-balanced and your motivation level high.

1. The issue: weak core muscles and arms
The fix: Pilates
Pilates is a core-strength building type of exercise that also builds over-all body strength, balance and coordination. Although it has a new-age kind of image, it has actually been in practice since the 1920s.
The exercise: the plank
Start on your knees and elbows with your elbows under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Step your feet back until your legs are straight and your heels, hips, shoulders and ears are in one long line. Keep your legs straight and firm. As you hold the position, squeeze your glutes together, and lift your navel up and in. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat three to five times.

2. The issue: overworked knees and hips
The fix: water fitness
Exercises performed in the water can be simultaneously challenging and relaxing due to the soothing quality of water. The buoyancy of the water also takes pressure off your lower body joints; even during jumping types of moves there is minimal jarring to your knees and hips.
The exercise: noodle cross-country ski
Straddle a pool noodle, and lift both feet off the pool bottom. Swing your left leg forward and your right leg back. At the same time, swing your right arm forward and your left arm back keeping your arms underwater at all times. Reach as far forward and backward with your arms and legs as comfortable. Continue alternating your arms and legs for 45 to 60 seconds, and repeat three to five times.

3. The issue: tight leg muscles
The fix: yoga
Yoga is a series of exercises (called postures) performed with a focus on breathing. Even just a few minutes of yoga each day can calm the mind and create a fit and supple body.
The exercise: downward-facing dog
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend down and place your palms on the floor in front of your shoulders. Step both feet back about a metre, and straighten your legs so the body makes an inverted V shape. Lift your hips up, press your thighs back, and straighten your arms. Relax your head, and breathe in and out slowly. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds feeling the stretch in the back of your thighs. Bend your knees, walk your hands toward your feet and roll up to a standing position. Repeat three to five times.


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