Strengthening and Toning in Fitness Walking

No fitness program can  be  considered well  rounded without exercises to increase muscle strength. Because of the  vigorous arm  swing, walking  tones upper-body muscles more than running (good distance-running form demands that participants carry their arms more passively, which achieves little if any muscle conditioning). Walking’s arm  movement and  upper-back engagement isn’t enough, though, to keep  bones healthy and  muscles strong for the  rest of life’s demands.

As you fine-tune your overall fitness program, try to find time for two muscle- toning sessions a week,  as recommended by the  American College  of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Target large  muscle groups from head to toe.  Exercise 8 to 10 muscle groups, twice a week, performing 8 to 12 repetitions of each. Such a toning routine doesn’t require more than 20 to 30 minutes, although you can always do more if you want.  Remember, exercises to strengthen muscles need not  be complicated or expensive.

Weight Machines

Strengthening and Toning in Fitness WalkingOften called selectorized machines because you select a weight by moving a pin in a stack of weight blocks, these are the machines you normally see at clubs. In a club, one machine is usually used for one exercise, such as a hamstring curl. For home use,  you’ll find units that combine an entire range of exercises on one compact station that can, depending on the  design, use any combination of seats, pins,  pulleys, stacks, bars, or cables. One stack means it’s available for one user at a time, while two-stack home gyms can be used by two people at once. Since the mid- to late-1990s, home gyms have  become very advanced and can be a great investment that offers about all you need, especially if you can’t,  won’t, or don’t  want  to go to a local club.

Free Weights

Rather than stacks of weight attached to cables or pins,  free  weights are dumbbells and  barbells, which are  bars on which you  slide  plates of weight on the  ends to create the  weight  you need to lift, push, or pull. The beauty of free weights is their adaptability; add a simple bench—one that can decline or incline  or has  a bar  and  stand for bench presses—and you can do just  about anything. The  only  catch is, you  have  to know  what  to do and  how  to do it. If you don’t,  your  workouts won’t achieve what  you want  them to, or worse, you might  hurt yourself. And you always run the  risk of becoming frustrated and  quitting. Free  weights are  best if you  have  experience or  knowledge or will read a book  to learn an appropriate program and  proper technique. You can  also  hire  a personal trainer for a couple of sessions who can  help  set  up a program for you.

Rubber Resistance and Body Weight

Weight  machines and  free weights are  great for building strength and  toning, but  if your  goal is basic conditioning, there are  cheaper and  simpler options. You can  also  use  rubber resistance tubes and  bands, work against your  own body weight, or invest in a stability ball or balance board. You can do abdominal exercises and  push-ups on your  living room floor, and  pulling  on inexpensive rubber surgical tubing or bands is a fine substitute for using a weight  machine to condition muscles in the back,  chest, arms, legs,  and  feet. Those large, inflated stability balls  usually come with enough illustrated instruction to get you started on basic overall exercises and stretches. And balance boards can strengthen and condition your lower legs and abdominals even more. None of this  equipment costs much and  they  are  compact (well, other than the  ball); just  stick  them in a drawer or under your  bed.  The ball, by the  way, is a great office or TV-watching chair that can help  you sit up straight and use your  abs while just  sitting there!

Walking-Specific Exercises

Proper strengthening should balance the  strength between muscle groups as well as target areas that may be susceptible for tightness or that need extra strength for a particular activity. For example, if you strengthen the quadriceps, don’t  forget  the  hamstrings; if you work the  chest, be sure to also  work your back.  If your  low back  tends to tire or ache, focus  on your  abs  as well as your back,  but  first consult with your  doctor. Be aware that walking uses the  shins and  calves, so be sure to work these areas.

Certainly a well-rounded strengthening and toning program is best and allows you  to  hit  all parts of your  body. The  following  basic selection of exercises provides a whole-body approach to major muscle groups. But don’t  be con- strained by this  list. It’s just a start. There are hundreds of different exercises and  a thousand different ways  to do them. This  group focuses on those you can do at home without extensive or expensive machines or equipment. One key for all exercises is to  avoid  holding your  breath during the  movement. Don’t laugh.  You’d be amazed how  many  people take  a final gulp and  hold  it as if they’re going underwater. Breathe!

A health club  trainer will help  you  develop a larger repertoire of exercises. Meanwhile, these will get you started.

Overall Upper Body (Push-Ups)

Many  people have  bad  memories of gym classes and  presidential tests, but  this  is an easy  overall upper-body toner and strengthener. And, compared to gym class where you got yelled at if you stopped, you can actually do short sets and  rest.

Lie on  the floor, facedown. Place  your hands under your  shoulders. You can either lift your  body  by straightening your  elbows but leaving  your knees on  the ground, or place your  toes on the  ground and  lift your

body  into  the  air into  a straight boardlike position. Whichever you  choose, keep  your  abdominals tight,  don’t  let your  back  sag  or sway,  and  keep  your head and  neck  aligned with  your  back  rather than letting it drop toward the ground. Next, lower your chest toward the ground while bending your elbows, and then lift yourself back up to a straight-arm position. Repeat as many times as you can before your  position and  technique disintegrate. Rest. Repeat.

Abdominals I (Crunches)

Lie on the ground flat on your back. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Either cross  your arms over your chest or rest your head in your hands, using your hands only to support the head. Do not yank on your head. Lift your torso and  imagine shortening the distance between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. Keep your head back, eyes on the ceiling and elbows open. Think about pulling your belly button into the floor and exhaling as you lift. Keep your abs from bulging outward by emphasizing the contraction during the entire lift. Lower slowly.

Abdominals II (Sides)

This  works  the  muscles in your  sides called oblique’s that help  to support your back, tighten your waist,  and hold in the  abdominal muscles in the  front. Lie on  the  ground  flat on  your back. Bend  your  knees so  that your  feet  are flat on the floor. Put your  hands behind your head, resting your head in your hands. Lift your  torso up,  turn toward one  side,  aiming  your  arm  pit  at  the opposite knee  and keeping the  elbow  back,  then return to the  straight position,  and  lower  slowly.  Again, exhale as you lift and  inhale as you lower. Keep your abs from bulging outward by concentrating on the contraction during the entire lift. Repeat on the  other side.

Upper Back

Strengthening your upper- and middle-back muscles will help  you stand tall and  make  your  arm  swing stronger, too. To  work your upper back,  hold  a long  and  wide  elastic band, such as  a Dynaband or Thera-Band, or rubber tubing, with  one  end  in each hand. Keep  the band taut. Raise  your  arms over  your  head (pretend you’re  forming a Y), but keep  your  shoulders down  and relaxed. Pull down and slightly outward, with  your  elbows lowering toward the  ground and  the  band moving behind your head. Focus  on  your upper-back muscles. Raise slowly to the overhead start position. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Middle Back

Sit down  on  a chair or on  the floor. Loop an elastic band around the back of an object in front of you. You can also  tie the band to a door handle, forming two tails to grab that are a couple of feet long.  Grab each end with  your  arms extended and  your hands directly in front of your chest. Try this with the palms facing down and with the palms facing in. Pull back on the band so that your elbows reach behind you, and focus on squeezing and working the muscles in the middle of your back  and  shoulder blades. Slowly return your hands to the start position. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Low Back

Lie facedown on the floor with your hands under your  shoulders, as if you were  get- ting ready to do a push-up. Slowly lift your chest and shoulders off the floor, keeping your chin  down  (don’t yank  your head back or touch it to your chest). Keep your abdominal muscles tight, and only extend as far as is comfortable without straining or pushing hard with your hands. Hold and breathe for 10 to 20 seconds. Exhale and release slowly to the ground. Release your  arms to your  side  and  relax for a minute. Repeat two to five times.


Stand  with  both feet  together, giving yourself at least 4 feet  of open space in front  of you.  Keep your abdominals tight, shoulders back, and spine aligned. Carefully step forward 3 to 4 feet with one foot. When that foot touches down, continue bending that knee into a slight lunge. Keep knee aligned over the foot rather than going past the toes. Your back knee will bend slightly and the heel will come up off the ground. Hold for a split second, then use your  leg and foot to push you back  into the starting position. Repeat 8 to 10 times. Repeat with the other leg. You can also hold  hand weights. If you have  knee problems or pain, avoid  lunges or don’t  bend the  knee  deeply enough to cause pain.


The hamstrings in the back of the upper leg also get a strong workout in walking.  Stand  facing a chair or  other support with  a circular rubber band or tube looped around your  left ankle.  Stand  on the other end  of the  tube with  your  right  foot,  bending the  knee  slightly. Keeping  your  back  straight and  abdominals tight,  lift your  left until  you  feel the  muscles in the  back  of your  leg being  used. Lower the foot just a little until the muscle relaxes, then pull the  heel  upward again.  Work up to 10 to 12 repetitions with each leg.


The shins (the muscles in the front of your lower leg) get a particularly strong workout during walking because they’re responsible for repetitively lifting the toe. When you first start walking,  you  might feel burning or extra fatigue in the shins. If you  ice  them before and  after walks  and  stretch and  strengthen them, these sensations will go away.  Meanwhile, do a few strengtheners.

Attach a circular elastic band to the leg of a chair or table. Sit on the ground facing the band with your legs nearly straight. Hook the toes of one foot inside the loop of the band. Keep the band taut while you flex your  foot, bringing the toe toward you. Keeping  the band taut, slowly point your  foot away from you. Do 15 to 20 repetitions per  foot. Do several repetitions in which you flex your foot,  as above, but  then move  your  toes to the  outside or inside before you relax into the  pointed position. Repeat on the  other side.


Stand with your toes on a step or curb. You may want to stand next to something you can hold onto to help you keep your balance. Lower your heels very slowly and carefully, and only to the point of a slight  stretch or feeling of tension. Keep your abdominals tight and your  shoulders back,  rise up on your  toes and lower again.  Repeat 10 to 20 times.

Feet and Toes

It’s amazing how important feet and toes are, yet how ignored they  are.  Try these towel  scrunchers. Put  a dishtowel or other thin  cloth on the floor. Place your bare foot on top of the cloth and curl your toes while trying to grab  the  towel  and  move  it or bunch it up. Do this  for  15 seconds to  a minute with  each foot, building gradually.

The wide rubber bands and tubes I mention are available in fitness specialty stores or other sporting good  stores and  usually come in various colors that represent different resistances. They  often  come in variety packs. The loops used for your  feet  are  narrower, thicker, and  made of tougher rubber, but  if you can’t find premade loops, use a high-resistance band and tie it into a loop. Check  rubberized gear  each time  you  use  it to make  sure there are  no weak spots, cracks, or tears that could cause the  band to break and  snap in your face. Storing  your  bands out  of the  sun  or heat will help  them last  longer.

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