The definition of weight-bearing exercise is exercise that works the body against gravity while on your feet. Bending can be a component of weight-bearing exercise, for example, folding your body at the waist for the downward-dog pose in yoga, but bending in and of itself is not. While walking is a natural movement and often the number-one exercise recommended by physicians to get people up off the couch, there are still some guidelines you can follow to get the most out of it.
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Robert Sweetgall, president of Creative Walking, has tips for healthy walking: Always warm up by starting your walk slowly, accelerating over the next 10 minutes. Hold your head high, still and level as though the crown is suspended from a string, and keep your shoulders relaxed, lifting your chest. To improve balance, posture and walking speed, pump your arms horizontally, but avoid exaggerated up-and-down or side-to-side movements. If you need more exertion, find a hilly walking area, incline the treadmill or increase speed.
Adding Weights Is Not a Good Idea
Many experts agree that adding ankle weights or carrying weights in your hands while walking is not a good idea. The risk of injury outweighs any benefit you might gain. Using such weights adds an abnormal pull on your limbs and may cause small tears in the muscles, ligaments or tendons. However, using walking or Nordic poles can be of help in beefing up your workout, according to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.
Upping the Ante
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According to a study conducted by the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, people who added walking poles to their regimen increased their energy expenditure by 20 percent. Walking with poles works out the abs, arms and back muscles while reducing stress on the feet, ankles, knees and hips. Using poles also increases endurance. Walking through the neighborhood, you may feel a little self-conscious in the beginning, but that will pass as you feel the improvement in strength and stamina.
Choosing the Right Shoes
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The jury is still out about the right style shoes for walking. Some proponents of barefoot or minimalist-shoe walking swear by it for strengthening their feet and legs. More traditional approaches are shoes that pad, support and, in some cases, correct poor form. For example, if you have a tendency to pronate or supinate -- that is walk on the inside or outside of your foot, respectively -- you can find shoes or orthotics to help position your foot optimally. Ultimately, shoe choice boils down to what works for you personally.
Keeping a Journal
Keeping a walking journal in which you record how far and how fast you walk each day, along with any other observations you care to record, such as perhaps, weight loss, can give you a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. It can be an important method for ensuring that you will stick to a walking program and it allows you to look back and see how much you have improved over time.
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While it is one of the most natural forms of exercise, walking is not the only weight-bearing workout on the planet. Walking is easy and requires only shoes, outerwear in the cold months and sunscreen year-round, after that any equipment you want to add is gravy. However, other forms of weight-bearing exercise can add variety to your regimen, such as jogging, dancing, yoga, tai chi or kick boxing.
LaVonne Taylor's 30-year career in health, fitness and beauty journalism, and a past personal trainer certification from American Council on Exercise, has given her a world of experience. She has worked as associate managing editor with "Shape" magazine and at McGraw-Hill in their educational division as a health and art project manager.