Whenever you start to ramp up your exercise program you risk injury. If you don’t take the proper precautions, you may find yourself laid up in bed rather than pumping it up at the gym. Even if you’re merely increasing the pace of your usual walking routine, you can do damage to your muscles. By taking a few important precautions however, you can avoid hurting yourself while still boosting your performance.

Walking is simply one of the best exercises around especially for people who might not be able to start off running. Walking improves strength and flexibility, reduces back pain and helps to tone up the butt and thighs. Walking can also be good cardiovascular activity depending on how hard you want to go. Whatever speed you want to take it though, there are some important rules of thumb for ensuring you get the most out of your walking routine.

If you’ve been stationary for some time, or haven’t been making it to the gym like you used to, you need to be especially careful when you start to workout again. As mentioned above, even beginning or renewing a walking program can leave you at risk. Below are some important tips designed especially for walkers that can greatly reduce the incidence of developing shin splints, one of the most common injuries faced by regular walkers.

Shin splints result when an imbalance in the muscles of the foot develop. Some of the muscles in the foot are designed to help pull it up and others to help as it comes down. Shin splints can result when walkers begin to walk faster than their muscles are used to, when they are wearing improper shoes that have a raised heel, or when they take too large of a stride for their frame. Preventing shin splints is therefore a matter of taking these things into consideration.

Overstriding: Overstriding is one of the major causes of shin splints in walkers. Overstriding occurs when the walker reaches too far forward with the front foot. Proper walking technique should involve more of a push off with the back foot rather than an attempt to reach too far forward with the front. It is always better to take shorter, quicker steps rather than trying to lengthen the stride beyond what is comfortable. Just adhering to this rule will greatly reduce the incidence and pain of shin splints.

Proper Footwear: Choosing the right footwear for walking can make all the difference when it comes to preventing injury. Proper walking shows should be flexible and offer support. Heels should be low and the shoe itself should be flexible enough to bend and twist when needed. When in doubt, go to a proper sporting or running store and ask for help while trying on shoes. Don’t be afraid to be too picky here. Getting the wrong footwear can leave you in pain, doing damage not only to your shins, but also to your feet and back as well.

Taking your time and trying on as many pairs as you need to until you find the right one is always the best way to go. Ask stores about their return policy as well. If you can’t return them after wearing them outside, try walking around your house for a day or even working out at an indoor gym and see how they feel. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason there is simply no sense in keeping them.

Strengthening Exercises: Even if you are taking proper strides and even if you have the best footwear for walking in the world, chances are you will still need to strengthen the calves in order to be sure to prevent injury or discomfort. A couple of simple toe raises can go a long way to preventing future problems.

Raising and lowering the toes while flexing the front of the calves is a great way to build up these muscles. This small little exercise will help you improve both flexibility and strength thereby preventing shin splints. As you stand up straight, lift one leg slightly off the ground. Flex your foot on the raised leg, gently raising the toes forward towards you and release. Repeat twenty to thirty times on each side and repeat for two sets. This exercise will help you build up the muscles you need for walking and even for hiking.

Surface Matters: Choosing a good walking surface is also an important step to enjoying a pain free walk. Walking on trails or grass is much easier on all your joints that walking on cement. Cement can be jarring on all the joints and muscles and can increase the risk of injury. Dirt, cinder, barkdust, or cinder paths will help prevent shin splints by ensuring a soft surface for your feet as you walk. When possible choose a walking path instead of hard surfaces.

Warm Up: As with all exercise routines, warming up is the key to preventing injury. Whether you’re hitting the treadmill, the hiking trail, or merely going for a long stroll, taking five minutes to warm the body up before going hard is one of the best things you can do for your health. For walkers, begin slowly even if you usually like to speed walk and get your heart rate up. Beginning slowly will help your muscles get warm and prepare them for more strenuous activity.

Stretch: Not only will a good warm up prevent injury, but after the workout is over a good stretch or two will also keep you fit and spry. Ignoring this component has left many a people sore and stiff even after what might seem like a low impact exercise such as walking. Take a few minutes during your cool down to stretch out the calves, hamstrings and feet. This will help increase your flexibility and ensure you prevent shin splints later on.

Walking is great exercise, but it too requires some preparation. When beginning a walking routine, particularly if you are a beginner or if you are taking up a more challenging task such as a week long walking tour, a long distance walk, or a more strenuous trail be sure to prepare beforehand. Make comfort your number one priority and you will be able to enjoy the view and the joy that comes from a good walk out in the beautiful outdoors. Your shins will surely thank you.

Author's Bio: 

Dale Miller is a health, sports, fitness and nutrition enthusiast. He operates http://centurysupplements.com/ and writes a blog at http://centurysupplements.com/blog/