If you've ever walked a while uphill, you were probably relieved to see a downhill stretch on the other side. Walking uphill can seem arduous, demanding great effort from your hamstrings and calves, and making it a bit more difficult to have girl talk during a mid-morning stroll. But don't let the downhill side fool you. Although you'll likely descend with more ease, walking downhill still works your leg muscles, particularly your quadriceps, which extends your knees during the walk. Watch your form, technique and approach to your downhill walks, and you'll stride ahead on stronger legs.
Watch Your Form
Your stride will naturally increase when you move downhill, but it's important not to overstride. Make a conscious effort to shorten your strides when walking downhill so your foot strike is lighter and your muscles and joints don't endure heavy impacts. This doesn't mean that you resist the hill. Maintain good posture as you walk downhill, making sure you don't lean either backward or too far forward.
Stay in Control
It's easy to give into gravity and move quickly when you walk downhill. Although your pace will likely be faster, stay in control. Allow your muscles to move your strides instead of letting gravity pull them. Moving too quickly downhill can drain your legs of the power needed to finish a walk strongly. Determine a pace that's appropriate for you when walking downhill and maintain that pace. An appropriate pace will increase your heart rate, cause you to breathe heavier and make it more difficult to deliver lengthy sentences. At the same time, if your pace is appropriate you should be able to maintain it consistently for 30 to 60 minutes. By controlling your downhill pace you'll safely engage your leg muscles and grow stronger while minimizing your risk of injury.
Mix It Up
Just like your best recipe, your favorite outfit and your most persuasive pitch to get your man to knock out a to-do list, downhill walks become mundane and less effective if you don't mix them up. Incorporate flat terrain and some uphill stretches in your weekly walks. This will improve your foot turnover, your speed and your overall exercise capacity. It will also help you maintain muscle balance by better targeting all of your leg muscles equally.
Wear the Proper Getup
Sure, the pink shoes are cute and go perfectly with your new workout shirt, but don't walk in them for too long. It's important to change your shoes every 300 to 500 miles for optimal support. Shoes with sufficient support will cushion your feet and help absorb the impact of your foot strike. Wearing appropriate footwear will help protect your joints while your legs become stronger. And if you must have matching shoes during your walks, you can always get a new pair in pink.
Mary Marcia Brown has worked in the health and fitness industry for more than 15 years. A writer and runner with road race directorship experience, Brown has been published in "Running Journal," "Florida Running & Triathlon" and "Outreach NC."