Hitting your step goal is important, but it’s just as important to know when you’ve walked too much and it’s time to cut your walk short. Staying injury free and motivated to keep walking is more important than finishing any single walk, especially if you’re feeling pain or soreness. Knowing when to push yourself further on long walks and when to take a rest is key to longevity in walking, as well as key to hitting your steps consistently over time.
Here are 4 signs that you should cut your walk short, including pain, poor posture, time constraints, and when you get the (occasional) feeling that says something doesn’t feel right.
It ok to cut your walk short!
While taking your scheduled walks and hitting your step goals are important, it’s ok to cut your walks short if you need to! Your day-to-day step numbers are less important than consistent walking over time. If you’re feeling very tired, sore, or hurt yourself then you’re much better off taking a break than trying to push on and risk injury.
Forcing yourself to walk when you’re tired or sore makes walking less enjoyable. Walking should be fun, and the more fun you can make walking the more motivation you’ll have to get out there every day.
Pain or soreness
“No pain, no gain” is actually NOT a good fitness philosophy for most people. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, or you’re trying for some extreme fitness goal, working out through pain is likely to hurt your fitness goals rather than helping. If you start experiencing pain in your knee, or if you roll your ankle, cut your walk short. At worst, you’ll have overreacted and you’ll be fine tomorrow. At best, you may have saved yourself a serious injury!
New or sudden pain
If you start feeling a new pain or suffer an injury like taking a bad step that twists your ankle or knee, wrap it up for the day. The pain might not come from a recognizable injury. You may notice pain building up in your knee, or back tightness. The first thing you should do with a new injury is to ensure you’re not making it worse. It’s much better to miss your step goal for one day than to make things worse and keep yourself off your feet for a long period of time.
Be aware that accidents and injuries can manifest in unexpected ways. Twisting your ankle can often damage your knee, and activities like lifting things can easily hurt your lower back. With many injuries, it takes hours or even a day or two for the pain and discomfort to show up. You may have injured yourself earlier and didn’t realize it, or it’s possible that an accumulation of wear and tear has started to manifest itself.
An important caveat is that new pain is different than a preexisting injury that you’ve discussed with your doctor. Many people have issues that cause at least some amount of soreness or discomfort on a regular basis. It’s still important to manage pre-existing injuries so that you don’t injure another area or cause too much wear and tear on your body.
If you walk long enough, you’ll experience some soreness in your legs. While a bit of soreness is natural, feeling new or unexpected soreness or general pain is a sign you need to rest up.
While most people are familiar with acute joint injuries, you can strain and injure muscles as well. Persistent hamstring soreness, for instance, could lead to a pulled hamstring or a worse injury that could put you out of action for an extended period of time. You’re much better off cutting your walk short, resting up and seeing how you feel tomorrow.
As your muscles and joint stabilizers fatigue, studies have shown that injuries in other areas are more likely to happen as well. If you feel new, localized soreness in a particular area then you should consult a doctor to check for an undiagnosed injury. If you feel general soreness in your legs, you probably either aren’t getting enough rest, you’ve increased your exercise too fast, or there’s another medical issue in play. If you get checked out and find that you’re ok, you’ll have a better idea of what acceptable soreness may feel like.
Your posture starts to fail
Good posture is key to preventing injuries and feeling great while getting your steps. After a long walk, however, it’s easy for your posture to start to fail. You may start to slouch and look down at the pavement. Worse yet, you may start looking down at your phone if you’re getting tired.
Good posture keeps your muscles and joints in proper alignment so that you’re using the strongest muscles and joints at the proper angles. While you’re still getting a workout with bad posture, you’re putting unnecessary stress on supporting muscles and forcing joints to work at suboptimal angles. This increases your risk of injury and also general soreness from walking. Bad posture also makes it harder to walk quickly and doesn’t feel as natural.
Simply being mindful of your posture and noticing how you’re walking is often enough to fix poor posture. If you start to tire and you find it’s hard to maintain proper posture, it’s probably a good idea to call it a day. Your poor posture could be a sign that you’re starting to tire more than you realize. Getting steps is important, but pushing yourself so far that you’ll be sore for the next 2 days will be a net negative for your steps.
Here are some elements of proper walking posture. Check out our guide here for more info!
- Eyes forward with head up
- Shoulders slightly back and over your center of gravity
- Back more or less facing straight up (don’t lean too far forward or back)
You can also engage your abs and glutes when you can to keep everything tight and get a bit of a core workout.
Your time is up (in certain circumstances)
There are many situations and walks where there’s no time pressure at all. A nice, leisurely weekend walk can go on for as long as your legs can keep moving. If you do have a specific time set for your walk for a specific reason, however, you should try to stick to that schedule. It can be tempting to extend your walks if your steps are behind schedule, but that’s a recipe for letting walking interfere with your life.
You have to use common sense for when and how long you can extend walks to hit your step goals. If you need to walk 16 minutes instead of 15 minutes that’s not a huge deal. But if you turn 30 minutes into an hour chasing your step goal then you may start to lose your motivation to walk over time. Instead, either find more time in the day for walking (like these 3 daily walks) or consider adjusting your step goal.
Something feels seriously off (occasionally)
You can’t put your finger on it or can’t articulate what feels wrong, but on rare occasions your mind or body is telling you that you don’t have it today or need to stop. You could be vaguely aware that you’re overtraining – exercising too much with not enough rest. It could be that joints or muscles are starting to get sore and an injury could be on the way. If you (very rarely) get this feeling, try cutting your walk short and taking an extended rest day.
If you’re ending walks early on a regular basis because something feels off, you either have some kind of undiagnosed injury, you’re not getting enough rest, or you need more walking motivation. It should really be a once-in-a-month or rarer type situation. As you walk more and more, you’ll learn to trust your body and trust your instincts.
We should note that this is different from having a health condition or injury where walking can be dangerous or difficult, so you’ll need to frequently evaluate how far you can go. In that case, you may need to cut walks short on a regular basis. If you’re a healthy, energetic walker than you really should be finishing your walks most (but not all) of the time.
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