Arms a-swinging, ‘power walkers’ enter mainstreamBohdan Bulakowski, the Polish coach of the Korean national race-walking team, likes to spread the concept of “power walking.” Given the chance by anyone who’ll listen, he’ll demonstrate the correct posture for gaining maximum benefits from the activity.
A hybrid of walking and running, power walking ranges from speeds of eight kilometers (five miles) to 14 kilometers per hour. Even at the slower end, race walking is considered a more effective kind of exercise than casual walking. Mr. Bulakowski, who has been working in the field for 30 years, advises armchair athletes to take up walking before delving into more rigorous activities.
Along the riverfront in Seoul, it is easy to find people power walking (hint: look for people swinging their arms vigorously). North of the city at Ilsan Lake, the Korea Athletics Federation held its inaugural Walking Festival on July 4. Despite heavy rain, more than 100 people took part in a five-kilometer race.
“I’ve tried all kinds of sports like weightlifting, swimming and squash, but my back pain did not go away,” said Park Jeong-il, a 27-year-old interior designer who crossed the finish line in 35 minutes. “Power walking seems like a mixture of yoga and running,” she observed.
After boarding the power-walking wagon two months ago, Ms. Park took the step of joining the Walking Leader club, a subgroup of the Korea Walking Association. Staunch advocates of the sport, the club’s 40 members regularly go power walking along the Han River, or some smaller neighborhood streams. They also provide instruction to newcomers.
One hears these gung-ho pedestrians coming from a distance, because they shout or sing children’s or marching songs on the go. “Some people give us a strange look, but that’s our intention, to get all the attention,” said Kwon Yeong-u, 39, a club member.
Mr. Kwon had completed several running marathons, but began suffering from knee pain from all the pounding. That led him to try out power walking.
“It was difficult to get rid of the preconception that men should run rather than walk,” he conceded. “After I started power walking, however, I realized that it was the kind of exercise for me.” Another benefit: He could work out with his wife.
The effects of power walking are substantial, experts say, because repeatedly swinging one’s arms and taking large strides works muscles in different parts of the body.
“Walking is better than running for losing weight,” said Jin Yeong-su, the director of sports medicine at Asan Medical Center. “Heavy exercise like running consumes carbohydrates while less intense exercises like walking burn fat.”
How to get started:
Proper posture is vital to gaining maximum benefits. Without proper posture, fast walking can even cause injury. The most crucial factor is keeping a constant speed.
Walkers need to relax their shoulders, lift their chest and look ahead. They should also lean slightly forward, maintain a straight back, and tighten their lower stomach and hips a bit. The arms, bent at almost 90 degrees, should be swung back and forth casually, but not out and in because such movement can cause back pain.
Feet should move parallel to one another, with heels touching the ground first. When your feet touch the ground, knees should straighten.
To increase speed, walkers should take faster steps rather than longer strides. Breathing needs to be in rhythm with one’s steps. Stretching is recommended after a 10-minute warm-up walk. For more information, call the Korea Walking Association at (02) 400-0713 or go to www.walkingkorea.com.
by Sung Ho-jun