In recent blogs, we’ve covered the health reasons for starting a walking program (it lowers the chance of cancer, heart disease and diabetes) as well as a list of strong motivators (walkers live longer, weight less and have more energy). So, let’s move on to how to start your fitness walking regiment.
First, an aspiring walker needs the proper equipment, which in this case is a good pair of walking shoes. Find the athletic shoe store where serious runners go. The salespeople or podiatrists there usually are best trained in finding you the right shoe that fits properly. Once you have established a brand or shoe that works for you, you can also consider purchasing it online.
As a rule, a good walking shoe should be flexible. You should be able to twist a shoe (like you would wring out a wet washcloth). The shoe should bend at the ball of the foot, not in the middle of the arch. If you put the shoe on a table, you should be able to “rock” it back and forth with the toe being slightly off the ground. Also, the heel should be no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of the foot. (NO butt builders.)
In addition to being flexible and having a low heel, a true fitness walking shoe will have a heel that is undercut, which means it angles in from the heel to the ground, not out. Most walkers tend to land on their heels and do not need the built-up or flared heel that runners require for stability.
There are different types of walking shoes for different types of walkers. If you anticipate walking for very long distances, a cushioned walking shoe might work best for you. There are stability shoes for walkers who want a stable and long-lasting shoe. But the most popular are lightweight performance trainers that work well for many people. The exception is for those who have been diagnosed as “overpronators” because their feet roll too far inwards and the arch of the foot flattens. They need to find motion-control shoes. A podiatrist can help determine if you have this condition.
People often ask me “Can I wear running shoes for walking?” While not all running shoes are appropriate for walking, most are fine. In fact, some salespeople will encourage you to browse both the walking and running aisles for shoes you’d like to try on.
A lot of walking shoes are really designed for comfort rather than for fitness walking. So whether it’s a running or a walking shoe, be sure to apply the same “twist-bend-and-rock” tests we talked about earlier.
Once you have your walking shoes, here are some tips on how to properly lace them based on your foot type. The experts at Runner’s World Magazine suggest that if you have a high instep or a particularly wide forefoot, you start with the normal criss-cross lacing (near the toe), then mid-foot, don’t cross, simply feed the laces up their respective sides. Near the top, return to criss-crossing for the last 2-3 holes. You can adjust the “hole” you’ve created where there is no criss-crossing for your comfort.
Another good technique is called the “loop-lacing lock,” often used to create a secure and tight fit. To do this, simply put the lace end back into the same hole it just left leaving a small loop on the side. Then thread the loose end through the loop on the opposite side to form a strong and tight closure. If you have a narrow foot or problems with your heel slipping in the shoe, this technique works very well.
There are several things you can do to make your walking shoes last longer. I recommend you use your walking (or running) shoes only for walking (or running). Yes, they’re very comfortable, but the shoes will last much longer if you change them after exercising. Also, I am constantly telling my children to “Always unlace your shoes before you take them off.” Yes, you’re tired and you are tempted to put one foot on the heel of the other and flip them off. Don’t do it!
If your shoes get wet, loosen the laces, take out the insides and let them air dry away from heat. Store shoes where they can air out (preferably for a day or so), and don’t leave them in a hot trunk or gym bag. Finally, as tempting as it is, washing machines are not your shoes friend. Wipe, hand wash, scrap, scrub or brush them clean.
Do you need two pair of walking shoes? Yes, that would be very nice. However, don’t buy two pairs of shoes at the same time. Buy one, make sure you like it, then invest in a second pair a few months later and alternate them. You are probably due for a whole new pair of shoes when (1) the “mileage” hits 300-400 miles, (2) the soles are worn out and/or (3) the shoe fails the flex test. Or maybe new shoes just feel much better!