Another aspect of planning your walking program is determining where to walk. Remember that your schedule, available time, and type of workout planned play a role in where you head. Here are a few possibilities with descriptions of their advantages.
- Treadmill. The sample programs describe outdoor workouts. One of the joys of walking is getting out from inside four walls, but sometimes circumstances—weather, convenience, travel, kids that need watching—mean you’ll want to stay inside on a treadmill. So with a simple conversion from minutes per mile to miles per hour (mph) you can also accomplish these workouts on a treadmill. See table 4.1 for that conversion.
There’s nothing wrong with treadmill workouts. They can have benefits that outdoor walking doesn’t provide. You can control exactly how far and how fast you go, and you can incorporate hills at a whim, as often or as steep as you want. Using a treadmill also lets you walk before or after dark when it might be unsafe outdoors. And you can even watch TV or otherwise distract yourself on those days when you don’t much feel like walking. Plus, you can have water or a change of clothes handy, and you don’t have to worry about the weather.
You’ll find that increasing the incline to 3 to 5 percent won’t make a huge difference in your perception of the workout’s intensity. However, perception is the key word here. Once you reach about 7 or 8 percent, you will definitely feel as if you’re going up. Use inclines of 10 percent or more sparingly because they are intense. If you decide to incorporate inclines to add intensity, choose one that allows you to remain comfortable while walking naturally, with your arms bent or hanging at your sides. If you have to hang onto the front rail to keep up with the speed (and end up looking like you’re water-skiing), the incline is too steep. However, to more accurately equate your speed on a treadmill to speed in the open air, you need to add an approximately 1 percent incline. This 1 percent incline requires about the same amount of energy as the wind resistance you encounter when walking on the ground or a track but don’t encounter on a treadmill.
- Mall. If you don’t feel safe outside, you’re bothered by the cold or heat, or you can’t seem to get out after the sun rises or before it sets, call around to your local enclosed malls. Many open early for walkers. If you can’t make it in the morning, an evening workout dodging dawdling shoppers is better than not working out at all. Another advantage of a mall workout are stairs (if it’s a two-story building). Adding a stint up and down on each lap can increase your intensity and muscle strengthening.
- City streets. If you live in the heart of a city or are traveling to the city, you can get a great workout by taking advantage of the sites and other built-in features. Again, you can add a flight of stairs at the transit station or shops. Try to be flexible with your route so you don’t have to stop at too many traffic lights; cross at the street that gives you the walk signal first. Do keep in mind that headphones are especially dangerous in busy cities, so it’s best to leave them at home.
- Tracks. Another option is the local track, either dirt or a slightly cushioned surface called all-weather, which feels slightly rubberized. They can also be a super place to feel safe because others gather there after dark or before sun- rise to get in laps and miles. Some are even lighted at night. Plus, if you want to get a better feel for your pace or distance covered, the exact quarter-mile distance can help. You must also pay attention to when the track is reserved for the school’s team practices and avoid those times. However, I’ve used tracks during practices, with the permission of the coach of course, and just stuck to outside lanes.
- Parks. Many cities have parks with paths that circle and loop, or even linear parks and recreational paths that attract walkers, cyclists, and runners. Call your local park district to find out where these are and what the facilities include. They can be gems in a city, with paths that are well used and safe. But do inquire about safety because some sections may be little used and too isolated for safety. Remember, no headphones (or one ear only) because the music can block the sounds of ill-intentioned passersby or even of traffic.
- Trails. If you live in a city, there’s no reason why you can’t escape your urban area on the weekend and transform your walk into more of a hike, hit- ting the dirt trails and hills or forests nearby. Your technique will change a bit going up and down hills, and you may find yourself moving more slowly because softer surfaces require more energy. But no matter, it’s a great escape. Just go by time and keep moving for an entirely different experience that can help you breathe fully without being pounded by city noises and traffic. You may like this so much, a weekend outing will become a permanent part of your schedule!
Don’t feel as if you have to forsake your friends, family, children, or even your dog as you build your walking program. They can take part in your program and benefit from it as well. If you have a young child, check out the various sport or jogger strollers that have three wheels and a sturdy construction (some with rain and sun shields). Depending on the thickness of the tires and sturdiness of the chassis, these strollers can also perform well on dirt trails. If you have an older child, let him or her ride a bike along with you. Another idea is to start a “soccer parent” walking group. While your children are engrossed in their activity (soccer, swimming, track, etc.), the parents can use their time wisely by doing laps around the field or school.
If you own a dog, taking him along with you may help you feel safer, but be sure he has the proper training. If it’s okay to let him off the leash, make sure he responds quickly to voice commands. If letting him off-leash is not per- mitted, there are specialty hands-free leashes available, which attach to your waist. You’ll also need to bring bags for scooping up his waste, treats for good behavior, and a source of water.