If you want to start getting fit, perhaps lose some weight that you’ve put on due to the usual post Easter chocolate clearance, then getting walking is an ideal way to do that.
Should i go walking, running or cycling?
If you’re reading this article, then it can be assumed that you’re already able to walk and are wondering how you can use this skill to improve your fitness. You’ve probably got the gear you need already if you’re not looking at climbing Ben Nevis or the like. As you’re already walking during the day, you shouldn’t expect the shock to the body that running causes. For all my love of running, it’s still something i get up to between injuries. And if you haven’t got a bike, then that can be an expensive exercise to start off in, though also provides an excellent low-impact activity.
Calorie wise, walking can be just as effective as running for burning off the excess fat. The difference being that you’ll take possibly twice as long to walk 10km as you would to run it, but the calories burned would be similar. For me, I’d never find the time to fit in 60km walking in a week as that would be at least 12 hours, but 6 hours a week running is easily found if i have to. That means I can fit in a 6/8 hour hill walk in at the weekend as well. So it’s the best of both worlds. Cycling on the other hand, burns a lot less calories per hour, but has the advantage of having less impact than either walking or running. With cycling, if you live within a certain distance from work (not too far or too near to make it pointless), then commuting in is probably the best way of keeping fit without having to find the time and possibly faster than the usual public transport or car in some instances. You might even find that with the price of fuel that a bike pays for itself both financially and in increased fitness.
What do I need?
For this article, we’re assuming you’re going to be travelling along easy tracks and lanes as opposed to full on wilderness assaults.
You’ll need some decent footwear, but don’t get fooled into buying heavy leather walking boots. Conventional wisdom insists on these, especially for hill walks and rough rambles, but I tend to find that even in the hills, a pair of decent fell shoes will be better. There’s no support for the ankles they say… I say the only time I ever twist my ankle is IN BOOTS, including a particularly nasty sprain that left me hobbling in agony all the way down from Snowdon summit. Shoes strengthen your ankles and improve balance, and you do tend to choose your footfalls more carefully.
If you’re going urban – then you could get away with trainers for surfaced paths such as cycle paths and lanes. Trail running shoes are an ideal option for getting a bit muddier and a really decent pair, I use inov8 Roclite 320s, which i feel i can tackle anything Snowdonia can throw at me (except for snow!) Fabric boots are available cheaply as well, and might be a compromise if you really don’t feel comfortable in shoes on rough ground. Whatever you do, if you expect to do some distances with them, get properly fitted at a decent shop and you won’t regret it. Neither will you regret getting a pair of decent socks that are suited to the time of year. Overheating feet leads to sore feet, sweaty feet and the dreaded blisters! Bridgedale and 1000 mile are some decent brands to keep an eye out for, but I’ve been using the Alpkit socks in literally all their guises for running to fell walking and they’ve proved themselves an excellent buy for anything other than very cold, so another pair does that job.
We’ve all got some sort of waterproof jacket, just make sure it’s waterproof and you’ll be OK. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of different fabrics here, but you certainly don’t need to shell out hundreds for a jacket. There are plenty available for a lot less!
Legwear. Basically, ditch the jeans. If they get wet, you’ll be uncomfortable. If it’s fine outside, then you’ll be ok, but they’re not the most comfortable to walk in. Most of us will have some sort of tracky bottoms in the bottom of the wardrobe. If not then for £30 or so, you can get decent walking trousers from the like of Craghoppers that are perfect for this sort of activity. Zip offs are even better. If you’re going further afield, then waterproof leggings are useful.
Like the jeans, the other poor choice of clothing is the ubiquitous ‘cotton-Tee’. If you expect to sweat, then cotton will keep hold of it and remain damp and clammy. This can be merely uncomfortable, but in cold weather it will rob your body of heat quickly. Synthetic running or walking tees can be bought from a tenner upwards, and has to be an essential buy.
Extras would include gloves, hat and a warm fleece or similar, depending on the weather. Pretty much do whatever your mother taught you when you went out in the cold! Common sense really. A small rucksack might be handy if the weather looks changeable in order to stow your waterproof or whatever else you take with you.
Where to walk?
Knowing where you are is important. Ok, overly obvious statement there, but I don’t mean at this particular moment but when you’re out there. Some sort of navigational nous is essential as if you can’t find your way, you’ll get lost (obviously!) Starting along routes that you know already, perhaps quiet country lanes you’ve driven on, is an obvious one. If in doubt, you can walk out on a route and return by the same way. Check the Mud and Routes database for waymarked trails in your area (SOON). These are often straightforward to walk as you follow waymarks of certain types to keep on the right tracks. Country parks and Forestry Commission land will often have these sort of walks. Off road cycle tracks are as simple as you get for finding your way, and are ideal ways to get walking.
If you want to be more adventurous then skills in navigation will be essential. And if that’s really not for you, then you can always join organised walks such as the Ramblers or depend on someone else to lead the way, preferably someone who knows how to navigate and not just the party member who could be bothered to buy a map and compass.
Start off slowly, but it’s totally down to the individual. If you’re just out of shape, not exercised for a while, then you might have no problem getting out for an hour or two. If you’re overweight and/or have medical conditions then you’ll need to take it easier. If in doubt, go and see your doctor before starting out. If you think you’ll be starting out small, then take a look at the Couch to 5K programme that can be used to build up slowly to walking or running 5km. If you think the first week’s too easy, you can start off at a later week as suits.
This is a quickly growing activity, with many groups springing up. Using poles help lessen any impact on your knees and with the arm swinging it burns more calories than walking. That said, I’ve seen too many people with poles fresh from the shop swinging all over the place and keep my distance lest I get tripped up or an eye taken out. If you do fancy this activity, then there are groups you can join that show you how to properly use the poles (there really is a technique to this!) and do so safely to yourself and others. Peter Clinch’s site provides all you ever needed to know, and probably didn’t, about using walking poles. They can be of use to all walkers, regardless of fitness or terrain covered, just be prepared for that strangest moment when you first start using them and you realise you need to stop walking as your arms hurt.
Poles (used correctly!) can be useful in all sorts of situations…
Basically, you can more than likely get out of your front door today and start walking without costing you a penny or reading web site articles by pseudo-experts. Unless you’re either a hermit or severly agoraphobic then you’ve probably got all the gear you need already. Even if you haven’t then a bit of common sense application might see you out anyway. Don’t trust your coat? Go out when it’s not raining, and maybe do short loops so if the weather forecast proves inaccurate (as if!) then you’re not going to be stranded too far from home if it does start, which it probably will. Only got trainers? Keep on lanes and cycle tracks and off the muddy paths.
Check the routes section (COMING SOON) of the site for some beginner routes that you can do for both fitness and pleasure and keep an eye out for the get country walking and get Hill Walking articles soon..