Whether you are engaging in fitness walking (aka power walking), race walking, or Nordic walking, there are several factors to take into account to perform your activity safely. We are going to run through physical safety, before more practical safety points regarding the environment within which you are walking.
These tips will keep you out of trouble no matter what style of walking exercise you are undertaking.
#1 Don’t wear unsuitable clothing (see our Walking Related Sports - What Kit Do I Need? article for more details).
#2 Don’t walk while glued to a smartphone! You need to be focussing on your technique, your breathing, and keeping an occasional eye on the ground in front of you while taking in the scenes or scenery around you.
#3 Keep hydrated. Make sure you’ve drunk enough water throughout the day before you head out. If your walk is over the 20-30 minute mark, ensure you have extra water in a backpack or hydration bag (such as those from the Kaljeni range)
#4 Dependent on the weather, make sure you put on sunscreen 20-30 minutes before you head out, and take a pair of sunglasses to avoid glare. Walking safely in snow, or in ice, requires correct footwear, and care when walking — it is best not to power walk in these conditions.
Now, let’s run through some specific safety tips for each walking style.
When you are fitness walking, you don’t have to worry about the worst-case scenario, but its always better to be safe than sorry. You are generally going to be hitting the streets and local parks. This is all good in the daylight and especially when with a training partner, or better, a group, but if you are going it alone, then plan your route and ensure you aren’t entering any danger zones:
#1 Walking safely at night isn’t a no go. Avoid areas that are very remote or quiet when you are walking alone, even in the day. After dark, avoid them entirely.
#2 Don’t go too wild. We are power walking, not hiking. Fitness walking shoes aren’t made to walk through very uneven ground. Stick to streets, paved pathways, and tracks.
#3 If you are heading out after dark, stick to well-lit areas and ideally buddy up, or head out in a group. And, as a safety precaution, WhatsApp live locations are a blessing.
#4 Is walking a good pregnancy exercise? If you are pregnant, power walking is still a safe exercise with a lot of benefits for you and your little one. Just take extra care and listen to your body.
When it comes to competitive walking, your training will fall under the safety rules outlined for fitness walking. Although, a track might be more appropriate. When it comes to race day, your safety tips are more race-specific.
#1 Make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing. (Again, see our Walking Related Sports - What Kit Do I Need? article for more details).
#2 Warm-up. When fitness walking, you can warm up as you walk. Race walking is going to have more of an explosive start. So warm-up for 10 minutes before the race with some jogging on the spot or jumping jacks. Performing three sets of calf raises on each leg, and circle your ankles 30 times in each direction will help to avoid shin splints or a sprained ankle. Your muscles and joints will thank you later.
#3 Hydration is paramount. More so than fitness walking, when you are competing your hydration could cost you a win, or at the very least, a position. Here a hydration bag is advisable, and stack it up with some energy drinks or bars for that extra kick.
#4 Sun cream and sunglasses apply here too.
#5 Stretch off. Make sure you stretch off correctly following your race. Stretch each muscle for 20-60 seconds, particularly your leg muscles. This’ll see you to race another day.
When it comes to Nordic walking, your safety tips have been covered. Now it’s time to make sure you’ve got your poles adjusted right.
#1 The length of your walking pole should be your height (cm) x 0.68, so if you are 175cm, then your pole should be 119cm. This should result in your elbow being at a 90 degree, or slightly greater angle when you hold the pole upright.
#2 Place your wrist through the strap on your walking poles to ensure they don’t fall off if you lose your grip.
#3 If you are heading off the beaten track, or trail, and your Nordic walking is going to be as part of a hiking trip or expedition, then check out our articles on UK Hiking Tips for Beginners and Hiking Essentials for Multi-Day Adventures.
So there we have it, how to stay safe while walking for beginners. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. It allows you to get some sun, get some fresh air and get your body moving. Whether you are going it alone with your favourite playlist, nattering with friends, or training for competition, get going, and get that blood flowing.