Fitness Articles

How to Walk with Proper Form and Technique

The Art and Science of Fitness Walking

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Find Your Stride
Everyone has a natural stride length that is most comfortable, and it may be shorter or longer than someone else’s stride. One of the most common mistakes you can make with fitness walking is to increase the length of your strides in order to walk faster. That’s OK for running, not walking, as over-striding can strain your muscles and joints, causing pain in the arches of your feet, and your knees, hips and heels. If you want to walk faster, focus on taking more steps per minute, not taking longer steps.

How fast should you walk? It depends on your fitness level, stride length, and turnover rate. Here are some general guidelines:
  • Slow to moderate walking is a 3 to 3.5 to mph pace (17-20 minutes per mile), about 115-120 steps per minute.
  • Brisk walking is about a 4 mph pace (15 minutes per mile), about 135 steps per minute.
  • Fast walking (or jogging) starts at a 5 mph pace (12 minutes per mile), which is about 160 steps per minute. Most people cannot walk at this pace. It's usually easier and more efficient to jog than it is to walk once you work up to this speed.
Walk the (Straight) Line
Be aware of your posture: Stand as tall as possible, feet pointing forward, abs engaged, back straight, neck in line with your shoulders (not forward), head up, and eyes gazing about 10 feet ahead of you. When walking, your center of gravity to move forward, not side-to-side (known as hip sway). Your pelvis will rotate forward with each step, but should not turn from side to side. Try to keep your legs in line with your hips and toes pointing forward, not inward (pigeon-toed) or outward (duck-toed).

Pump It Up—Your Arms, That Is
You've probably seen those “serious” fitness walkers who pump their arms vigorously as if they were running. Even if it makes you feel self-conscious, this is the most efficient way to walk—especially at higher speeds. When your arms are too straight, it can be difficult (even painful) to pump them enough to achieve a good speed. And if your hands swell during exercise, keeping your elbows bent can help avoid or minimize that.

Keep your arms close to your sides and bend your elbows at 90 degrees. Keep them bent at a right angle while you walk. When pumping your arms, the movement should come from your shoulders, not your elbows, and your hands shouldn't rise higher than chest level. Finally, avoid clenching your hands. Imagine you’re carrying something delicate in them, like a raw egg—don’t squeeze tight enough to break it, nor so loose that you drop it. Try not to exaggerate the movement of your arms, but do use them to your advantage. You can only walk as fast as your arms pump.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I am a long time walker. I still learned things from the article I did not previously know and was refreshed on others. Good article. - 12/27/2013 1:05:16 PM
  • YEs the water walking can be great a adds resistance. As weather is in 90s here in usually cool Maine. My walking will probably be in the water this weekend - 7/6/2013 5:13:49 AM
  • Dr. Sholls has an insole for heel pain relief made for people with plantar fasciitis--it looks like 3/4 of an insole giving both heel padding and arch support, available in Walmart for $11.00. Worked wonders for me, but it took awhile for the condition to heal totally. In the meantime they gave enough symptom relief so that I could walk. Doing heel stretches on a book or stair step after my calf raises, plus losing weight were also of much benefit, but I needed the insole to be able to walk far enough to lose the weight--there's good info on plantar fascitis in the SP Health A-Z section. I still use the insoles as a preventive measure, even though the pain is gone. - 6/26/2013 7:34:51 AM
  • LETICIA75
    I have plantar facitis in my left foot...i was wondering if anyone knew of or could recommend a good walking shoe?? thanks - 6/19/2013 1:31:24 PM
  • I agree water aerobics is really great for walking without stressing my neck and spine.
    But when I walk in the mall I walk normally. But I can do 3 to 4 miles in an hour depending o n the person with whom I am walking... On a treadmill I try to do the motion you suggest. - 5/8/2013 5:53:04 PM
  • I've taken Chi-Walking and Chi-Running classes. In Chi, they teach to land full-foot, that landing heel and pushing with toe is a major cause of injury. With Chi, I can walk and walk and walk for mile and have no pain. without using Chi, I walk max 1-2 miles and hurt. - 5/7/2013 1:55:58 PM
  • I do a lot of walking and have done a lot most of my life. It looks like I've been naturally doing what is recommended in this article, except for bending my arms at 90 degrees, which I'm not going to do no matter how important it might be; I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to make myself look that silly. If I was going to do that I might as well also be wearing a clown suit.

    I like to mix a little fast running in with long walks, usually toward the beginning. And I like to walk over various terrains. I've also found that it works better to do walking one day, maybe bike riding the next, karate the next, and so on, with a lot of gardening mixed in this time of year, instead of doing the same thing every day. Plus weights 3 days a week. Variety improves exercise for a number of reasons.

    I'm curious about how carrying extra weight, like if you walk to the grocery store or library and carry a backpack to bring the things you get home. These days I'm carrying about 30 pounds of extra weight in fat, due to poor diet discipline (which I need to work on). Presumably that increases the amount of work my muscles do. - 5/7/2013 10:26:04 AM
  • I walk a lot but not particularly mindfully. going to think about it next time I'm out and about. I've never heard of chi walking but I'm going to find out more. thanks all! - 5/7/2013 6:30:20 AM
  • JGMARIE80
    Very good information. I've been walking a lot and it' s good to know that I'm doing some of it right. I do have to correct some mistakes that I made . Thanks. - 4/30/2013 3:48:56 AM
  • JWAITE3
    I try to walk a hour a day with some jogging how long does it take to lose any weight I am trying to lose 10 to 15 pounds any advise help I am trying - 11/12/2012 12:41:27 AM
  • This is great! I'm doing more walking out necessity at the moment (injured foot in the healing process) so until I can run again this article has provided some very useful tips.
    Thanks! - 11/10/2012 3:06:11 PM
  • I'm sorry, but if I have to think about all those things to walk, I'm just not going to do it. Just took all the fun out of it! - 11/10/2012 10:38:15 AM
  • Thanks for sharing. Very informative. Wasn't wlaking properly. - 11/10/2012 9:12:50 AM
  • LILYGREEN3
    How fantastic to see someone exercising who looks over 50! This women looks in great health and is a motivator for me. It really helps to see diversity in age, gender and ethniticity. - 11/10/2012 5:42:11 AM
  • Great article. When you walk as a form of exercise you need to be more aware of form. I learned this after some incorrect walking that has landed me in physical therapy. I am now restarting my walking as a from of exercise again, slower for now but I hope to increase my speed eventually. At 60 years old with plenty of arthritis in my spine, I may never jog but i can still lose weight thru walking. Treking poles are a help too. - 7/22/2012 11:12:07 AM
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