Starting a walking routine can be as simple as lacing up your sneakers and hopping on the treadmill, circling the track or walking around the block. Maintaining the motivation to stick with a walking workout or learning to walk faster and cover longer distances, however, might be more challenging. That’s where a walking coach comes in.
Much like a personal trainer, a walking coach works with you to establish goals and creates a tailored training program to help you meet them. Walking coach Michele Stanten, co-author of “The Walking Solution,” works with clients whose goals range from beginning a regular walking routine to competing in distance walking events from 5K races to marathons. “With a coach, you tend to push yourself more than you would if you were walking on your own and it improves your accountability,” she explains.
Coaching could also help prevent injuries, according to Anthony J. Wall, director of international business development for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “It’s easy to start a walking routine but if you push yourself too hard, too fast, you can get injured,” he says. Working with a walking coach ensures you have a smart plan to help prevent injury.
The sessions often start with assessing technique. To turn a walk into a workout, Stanten explains, walkers must do more than just put one foot in front of the other; to burn significant calories during a walk, you need to engage your arms and take shorter, faster strides.
“When you take longer strides, you have to work harder to pull the rest of your body toward your front leg; if you land your foot closer to your body and land from heel to toe, it’s a smoother, faster movement,” she says. “Powering your arms makes it a full body workout [and] the faster you move your arms, the faster your feet will go to keep up.”
Walking coaches take a holistic perspective to your walking workout, providing guidance on strength training and flexibility, recovery and hydration. “I always recommend strength training,” says Stanten. “It’s going to help protect your joints and give you a more powerful stride.”
While running coaches are often certified by organizations such as Road Runners Club of America and North American for Sport Fitness Professionals, there is no specific certification for walking coaches. Instead, Stanten says most walking coaches are group fitness instructors or personal trainers who earn certifications through organizations like ACE, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and have a passion for walking workouts.
Wall suggests looking for coaches with certifications and lots of experience working with athletes who walk, adding, “As coaches gain experience and become more specialized, their programming becomes much more specialized, too.”
You can hire a coach for one-on-one sessions or participate in group walking coaching. Organizations like Walk with a Doc, Girl Trek, the YMCA and local community organizations often facilitate group walking workouts that include accountability and coaching.