It's actually better than jogging when it comes to cutting your risk for heart disease and stroke, according to a study in the BMJ. Plus it has advantages over regular walking in that it works your upper body and helps you lose weight faster. If you just started power walking four times a week, you could lose kilos in just 2 months—no dieting necessary.
"Power walking is great for people who either aren't interested in running or have a running injury," says trainer Lee Scott. "We focus on the large muscles in the back, the glutes, and posture, and that takes the stress off the ankles, knees, and hips."
If you're thinking, "That's all well and good, but I don't want to look funny," first make sure you're not thinking of race walking, which has technical rules and really does look bizarre. For power walking, all you have to do is keep up a quick pace while keeping your arms bent at the elbows at a 90-degree angle and swinging your relaxed fists in an arc from your waist to your chest. The arm swing is integral to your stride, controlling breath, using your back, and conditioning your arms and shoulders.
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But you feel self-conscious. What to do? Here are a few strategies to cope with worries about how you look.
Dress the part
Cyclists wear bright clothing when on a serious ride. Lifters wear huge leather belts and tank tops (or less). So when you go for a power walk, adopt some 'tude by wearing workout clothes that indicate to others and yourself that you're doing some serious training, says Scott. "Get a proper running outfit that wicks away sweat. Wear the right sneakers. The clothes will help you feel like an athlete, which will give you confidence."
It gets easier
Yes, it may feel funny to swing your arms like a cartoon soldier, but you'll adjust. "It may take a month or so, but once you acclimate to the movements, you'll feel great and you'll feel empowered by the changes in your mood and body," says Scott. A lot of the self-conscious feelings, she says, stem from the movements feeling foreign and the challenge of paying attention to posture and large muscle groups.
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Find strength in numbers
You'll feel more secure when everyone around you is doing the same thing: Try joining a group of power walkers (or starting your own). Plus, you'll have people to talk to which will distract you from feeling silly.
Remember, we're all freaks
Anne Katahira, 43, started power walks after her physical therapist prescribed them for her injured shoulder and hip. "I felt really strange until I looked at the people working out around me in Central Park and realized everyone looked weird. Someone was dancing near me; somebody else was playing air drums. And, so many runners have such awkward movements that I suddenly felt just fine about my arm swings."