When it comes to pleasant, budget-friendly exercises, walking can’t be beat. Stepping outside for a stroll around your neighborhood, city block, or local park has been found to reduce heart disease risk, strengthen your joints and heart, and even improve your mood. But before you lace up your shoes and head out the door, make sure you’re not falling prey to a few common mistakes that may sabotage your walking workout.
“Walking is one of the best and most underrated exercises you can do for your long-term health,” says Sarah Gascon, PhD, a performance coach with personal training app Future. Apart from the aforementioned benefits for your heart, joints, and mood, putting one foot in front of the other also improves stability and coordination and boosts immunity. “Additionally, walking has been shown to help you reduce stress, anxiety, and depression,” says Gascon.
All these wins for your mental and physical health are probably enough to make you want to find your sneakers and hit the trail or roads. Before you do, read our expert’s take on the five mistakes you may be making during your walking workouts—and how to avoid them.
1. Starting without the proper equipment
It probably goes without saying that flats and loafers are not the proper attire for a walk, but Gascon points out that flat “fashion” sneakers also won’t fit the bill. “With the wrong shoes, you may increase your risk of injury. I would not recommend wearing Converse, cross-trainers, or minimalist shoes if you are just starting out walking on the sidewalk,” she says.
Instead of making do with a pair you already have, invest in comfortable walking or running shoes, and if you’re walking on trails, make sure you specifically seek out hiking boots or trail runners. Pro tip: The exact same model of shoes from two or three years ago almost always on sale and they are still great shoes.
You should also apply the same mentality to your socks. Choose sweat-wicking options with compression technology so you don’t end up with sopping, blistered feet at the end of your workout.
2. Walking somewhere you’re unfamiliar with
“It’s important to know where you are located and ensure you are comfortable in your walking space,” says Gascon. “You should know the distances and locations just in case of an emergency. Having access to a map or any GPS device will help you navigate unknown areas.” She adds that you should always tell people where you are going (particularly if you plan to log your miles in the evening or at night).
You may also want to familiarize yourself with public bathrooms along your route.
3. Doing too much too soon
So you’re planning to trek over to a beautiful park that’s two miles away from your house. That’s awesome. Just make sure you have enough energy to get back home. “Walking can be fatiguing, especially if you begin to add in intervals or hill walking,” says Gascon. “Remember to keep track of reps, sets, and your level of fatigue. If you begin to feel tired, remember you still need to get back to your car or back home.”
The weather may also influence your route and mileage. If it’s a hot, sunny day, be prepared to tire more quickly than you would in perfect weather. If it’s below freezing outside, you may want to cut things short or walk on a treadmill instead.
4. Not bringing snacks and water along with you
“It’s always good to have water, a snack pack, and maybe a little first aid kit when you are going on your walks. Make sure you stay hydrated and nourished, especially in summer months or high altitude areas,” says Gascon. If you hate carrying food and water on your run, bring a credit card instead and plan on stopping at a coffee shop or grocery store along the way for a quick bite.
5. Waiting until the end of the day to go out for your walk
We all have times of day when we prefer to exercise. Some people love to seize the day with an early morning run; others squeeze in some gym time on their lunch break. However, there is a universal truth about fitting a workout in: the longer you wait in the day, the more likely you are to miss it. Gascon’s recommendation? Lace-up first thing in the morning. “My favorite option is getting up early in the morning and taking a walk. If your usual routine is to shower, brush your teeth, put on your work clothes, and eat breakfast, then you can slide in a 15-minute walk in the morning,” she says.
That said, if you know yourself and you know you will actually gear up for a run after work, then more power to you.