Coach Tip Tuesday: In defense of walking
Updated: Apr 28
Photo Description: A close-up photo of a woman’s feet as she is walking away from the camera, showing the sole of her right sneaker.
Another Tuesday, another Coach Tip!! This week’s Coach Tip Tuesday is inspired by something that I have recommended many times over the last few years, but has come up with several of the athletes I’m working with more frequently in the last few weeks as many of them have transitioned to working from home (read: sitting all day).
Over three years ago, I was in Pensacola, Florida for the first-ever Team MPI Coaches’ Retreat. I was newer to Team MPI back then, and this was my first-time interacting in-person with my new colleagues. The Head Coach and CEO of Team MPI, Mark Sortino, decided that he was going to spend an ENTIRE SESSION of our retreat teaching us all how to walk.
Yep, you read that right. He was going to teach us how to walk. I thought he was off his rocker. Hadn’t I just walked myself right on over to this session and done so quite well?? Hadn’t I been walking successfully for 30+ years?? What did I need him for??
I should have known by Coach Chris Palmquist’s reaction to this that it carried weight. She thought that it was equal parts hysterical and useful that Coach Mark was teaching us how to walk. (Apparently, when he was the Head Coach for Team USA for the 2016 Paralympic Team he didn’t walk so well in the airports as they traveled the world, but I digress).
ANYWAY. What I learned that day is that walking IS important. And walking WELL is even more important. Coach Mark taught us how to walk efficiently, and then things started to click in my mind. If we could walk efficiently, this, like so many other skills, would cross-pollinate for endurance athletes. Walking efficiency could translate over to running and cycling efficiency. It would help to build one’s durability and aerobic engine, making any endurance discipline slightly easier.
And so, I left Florida and started when I have since referred to as “Walking Like the CEO.” When I walk, I walk the way I was shown that day. I coordinate my arms with my legs and get that cross-body connection going. I implemented this on my “regular” walks, and then also in walking breaks during my walk/runs. This more efficient type of walking was definitely faster (remember that efficiency almost always equals “free” speed).
After doing this for a bit, I started studying some of the best athletes in the world. I also started taking a hard look at the athletes I was working with who seemed to be pretty durable and injury-resistant. Among them, I noticed a common thread: they walked. And they didn’t just walk a little bit. They walked A LOT a bit. Whether it was due to where they lived (i.e. where they walk for their transportation), due to their job (i.e. someone who delivers mail, is on their feet walking for work throughout the day), or due to their lifestyle (i.e. someone who walks their dogs or goes on evening walks after dinner), their injury-resistance and durability seemed linked to the fact that they were MOVING very regularly throughout their lives. And this movement wasn’t high-impact or high exertion. It was simply movement. Simple can be elegant, my friends.
I saw this trend, and then I decided to test it on myself. I set a goal to meet a minimum “step goal” (not including runs) each day for a month. I started from where I was, and then I slowly built from there. By the end of the month, my running felt much stronger (especially as I landed in the running gait cycle), and my cycling was noticeably stronger (I could maintain my fit better and my knees weren’t knocking toward the top tube of the bike like they had been). This motivated me to keep going beyond that month, and to make walking a part of my daily routine.
These days, I cherish those walks. They’ve become mini-breaks in my workday, moments of respite if my mind is busy, a way to get outside and moving, and a great source of durability and strength for me. Coach Mark was right: walking IS important.
So, this week, I encourage you to increase your walking time. This is especially true if you are sitting more than you are used to. I know SO many of you have time on your hands that you are not used to, or you are feeling stressed or anxious. While some folks’ first instinct might be to channel that stress into an extra “workout”, I encourage you to do something different that doesn’t need to be tracked or thought about. It can be simply ENJOYED. Take a 10-minute walk and see what it does for your mind and your day. Make it a part of your daily routine, and reap the benefits in your workouts as an added bonus.