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How to Walk Fast and Efficiently

More in our series on good health for handlers. By Kimberly Chase, CFT, AFT.


Many people have knee, foot or other physical limitations which keep them from running in order to improve cardiovascular fitness.  Even if you don't enjoy exercise or going to a gym, walking is a terrific way to move your body in a way it was meant to while doing something positive for your life and your dogs. I know you thought this article might help you to walk an agility course.  It very well may! Whether a participant in a walking race event, agility competitor, or just the average Joe, it's always good know how to walk quickly and efficiently with good form.

Fast walking begins with proper technique, then speed. Using proper technique and good body alignment, energy radiates from the ground up while arms and legs work together to transmit speed and power into each step. When learning body awareness and new walking form, slow down at first. Soreness will work itself out with practice. Walking with the right technique, adding a brief warm up and cool down with some light stretching, will also help to prevent injury. These techniques may be used walking on the sidewalk, grass, or treadmill (gripping the handrails as little as possible).

Head and Torso: Good posture while walking will help you breath better and avoid back pain.

  • Think of being tall and straight (back not arched)
  • Eyes looking forward about 20 feet (not looking down)
  • Lean slightly or 5 degrees forward if walking very fast
  • Chin up, parallel to ground, nose pointed forward
  • Shoulders down (shrug up and down a few times to make sure)
  • Head remains level (all motion is from the shoulders down)
  • Pull in on your belly button/abdominal muscles
  • Tuck rear end in slightly to keep from arching back
  • Hips will rotate slightly side to side but excessive moment is wasteful
     

Arm motion:

  • Arms bent at 90 degrees
  • Hands in a loosely closed curl (fists not clenched) 
    Elbows close to body (no bird wings)
  • With each step straight back the opposite arm moves back (hand toward the hip)
  • With each forward step the opposite arm comes straight forward (not diagonally)
  • Avoid swinging arms across the center of the body
  • Hands lower than chest (avoid upward pumping)
     

Foot motion:

  • Heel strikes the ground first with ankle flexed
  • Think about showing the underside of your shoe to oncoming walkers
  • Roll through the step: heel to toe
  • Push off the toe (a good push off the rear leg will add power and speed to your step and stretch your hips)
  • Bring the back leg forward again to strike with the heel. 

[note: shins or ankles may hurt at first until they get stronger.]

Leg motion:

  • Keep a natural stride length rather than over-striding
  • Rear-push-off leg stride will be longer than leg in front of body
  • Think of keeping the rear leg on the ground as long as possible then push through the toes
  • Think of driving forward with leg, rather than knees upward, while presenting heel to the ground
  • Increase strides: quicker smaller strides enable more steps per second and better use of the back leg.
  • Feet should not slap the ground noisily.  This will improve as strength improves
  • Hips naturally rotate front to back with each stride but not side to side.
     

Putting this into practice:

If recovering from an injury, deconditioned, or just learning, start out with short 5-15 minute walks 5-6 days per week.  Each week add about 5 minutes per day to the walk while monitoring form and gradually adding speed.  After about a month, or once able to accomplish a brisk walk (let's say about 4 MPH) for 30 minutes, you can also add jogging intervals (provided you have healthy knees, feet, ankles, and hips).  If looking to improve endurance for agility runs, the intervals would consist of walking 3-5 minutes, then jogging 30 seconds to 1 minute, and repeating until completing about 8 cycles (roughly 45 minutes total).  For more advanced walkers, sprint intervals can be joined with light jogging intervals in the same way: light jog 3-5 minutes, sprint 30 seconds-1 minute.  Incorporate our interval training every other road work session to allow for recovery time. 

The best part about getting reconditioned this way?  You can easily take along one of your dogs, friends, or family members for motivation and condition them too.  Everyone can find a few minutes a day to start consciously walking.  Just do it!

How can this help you walk an agility course?  Once you know your body has better endurance, muscular efficiency, and good walking form and mechanics imprinted on our nervous system, we can walk a course confidently thinking about our handling maneuvers and positions, while more accurately considering where our body will be in relationship to our dog.  

Kimber Chase, CFT, AFT has been certified fitness and aquatic trainer for 15 years.  She lives in South Florida and has been competing in agility for 9 years with two border collies. She can be reached at kimfit@bellsouth.net or through her website at http://www.completephysique.com/.

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