Power Your Walk Challenge: Strengthen Your Muscles to Walk Tall and Prevent Injuries
These 10 exercises target the major walking muscles from your heels to your shoulders to help you feel confident—and strong—on the go.
This is Step #4 in the 7-Day Power Your Walk Challenge. Find the full step-by-step guide here. And download the activity guide here. Enjoy your walk!
There’s a lot more to walking tall than, well, putting one foot in front of the other. When your goal is to perfect your upright form—and feel good on the go—a little bit of strength work goes a long way.
When you work the right muscles, it can help pull you into proper posture, explains Rachel Hunt, D.P.T., a physical therapist at React Physical Therapy in Chicago.
“Your ‘walk tall’ muscles are called the posterior chain,” she says. They’re the muscles along the back of your body. So think: your back muscles, glutes, and the backs of your legs.
“Those are the ones that are going to really help you stand upright and stride right,” Hunt ads.
What Proper Walking Posture Looks Like
The better your technique, the faster and longer you’ll be able to walk. (A key part of our 7-Day Power Your Walk Challenge.)
Plus, you’ll be able to breathe easier, alleviate aches and pains, prevent injuries, and feel more power with each stride.
So what does proper walking posture actually look like? Here’s how Hunt describes it:
- Spine is elongated (you’re not leaning forward or backward)
- Shoulders are back and down
- Hips stay relatively level when you walk
- Eyes gaze about 10 to 20 feet in front of you (rather than at your shoes)
The moves below from Hunt and Sherri Betz, P.T., D.P.T., a physical therapist in Louisiana who specializes in helping older adults, will help you do just that.
The more you practice these moves—and stay self-aware during your walks—the more automatic walking tall will become.
How to Use the Walk Tall Strength Circuit
You’ll just need yourself, water to sip on, a sturdy chair, and some open space. You’ll also want to position yourself near a support object for added balance, be it a wall, countertop, or tree.
For an extra challenge, have some dumbbells handy. If you don’t have free weights, household objects can add resistance to moves too. Examples include water bottles and food cans.
When you’re ready, read through the moves below and get started. Aim to do this sequence twice a week on non-consecutive days. (So if you do this circuit on Monday, wait until Wednesday or Thursday before giving it another go.)
And if you tend to look down at your feet when you walk, try to keep your eyes up when you’re doing your strength moves, suggests Hunt.
“Practicing in your home—when you know where any obstacles are—can help build your confidence.” Then slowly work on taking this practice outdoors.
As always, safety is key. These exercises may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Want more strength moves to level-up your walking game? Check out our SilverSneakers Classic class. This online or in-person class is appropriate for all fitness levels.
The Walk Tall Strength Circuit
What to know before you begin:
- Perform 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
- When you’re finished, rest for 30 seconds and move on to the next exercise in the sequence.
- When you’ve completed all 10 exercises, that’s one set.
- Work up to two to three sets, taking 3 minutes of rest in between each round.
To see how to incorporate this circuit into your walking routine, download the 7-Day Power Your Walk Challenge Activity Guide here.
Walk Tall Strength Move #1: Wall Pushup
Why it works: You practice standing upright while working your shoulders, arms, and core for strong walking arms.
- Stand tall facing the wall with your core engaged, feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent.
- Place your hands on the wall, slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Lean forward, bending at the elbows to bring your chest toward the wall.
- Then push yourself back to standing.
Make it harder: Try lifting one leg off the floor as you do your pushups.
Walk Tall Strength Move #2: Sit-to-Stand with Hammer Curl and Overhead Press Combo
Why it works: This is a functional, full-body move that builds endurance and strengthens your legs, glutes, back and arms.
- Sit tall in a sturdy chair with your shoulders back and down and your feet under your knees.
- Let your arms hang down, elbows tucked to your sides, and palms facing you.
- From here, engage your glutes and thighs and press through your heels to stand tall.
- Bend your elbows (not your wrists) and engage the front of your arms to curl your hands up to your shoulders. (Hammer curl)
- Then inhale and press your hands up and slightly in front of you as you straighten your arms. (Overhead press)
- To return to sitting, slowly bring your hands back down to your shoulders and lower your arms the rest of the way down with control.
- Keeping your chest up, push your hips back to lower back down to sitting.
Make it easier: Try the move with a Hip Hinge, as shown in the video below. Remember that you can perform this exercise using just your bodyweight:
Make it harder: Hold dumbbells for extra resistance or try this move without the chair, squatting down as far as is comfortable.
Walk Tall Strength Move #3: Side Step with Arm Raise
Why it works: This strengthens the outside of the glutes, which prevents your hips from rotating or dropping from side to side as you walk. (Hip rotation puts pressure on your knee and ankle—ouch!) The arm raise is a shoulder-building bonus.
- Stand tall with your shoulders back, core engaged, and feet hip-width apart.
- Place your arms down at your sides, palms facing you.
- Take a wide step out to the side with your right leg, your left leg following.
- From here, raise your arms out to the side as high as is comfortable, up to shoulder height.
- Pause and then slowly lower your arms back down and side step back to your starting place, first with your left foot, then with your right.
- Repeat on the other side.
Press play to find variations of a lateral arm raise. Remember that you can do this exercise using just your bodyweight. You’ll perform the arm raise after the side step.
Make it harder: Hold dumbbells for extra resistance or place a resistance band around your ankles.
Walk Tall Strength Move #4: Bent-Over Row
Why it works: Strong back muscles help keep your chest up, your shoulders back, and prevent your spine from slouching.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor.
- Let your arms hang from your shoulders, palms facing you.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you row your hands up to the sides of your torso, keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides.
- Be sure to keep your spine neutral here, avoiding craning your neck to look up or rounding your back.
- Pause, then slowly lower your hands back down.
Make it harder: Hold dumbbells for extra resistance, as shown.
Walk Tall Strength Move #5: Heel Walk
Why it works: A top reason that people trip or stumble during walks: their toes are pointed down or drag. This move works your shin muscle that helps bring your toes up.
- Stand tall with a support object at your side, such as a countertop or couch.
- Rest your hand on your support object.
- Raise your toes off the floor so that only your heels are in contact with the floor.
- Take a few small steps forwards, landing on your heels each time.
- Adjust your grip on your support object as you go.
- Bring your toes back to the ground, turn, and take a few small heel walks in the other direction.
Make it easier: Only lift the toes of one foot at a time, or remove the walking altogether. Just focus on lifting your toes off the ground and engaging the muscles in the front of your shin.
Walk Tall Strength Move #6: Staggered-Stance Heel Raise
Why it works: Your calf is vital to a strong (and fast) walk. You use it in the push-off phase of your stride.
- Stand tall with your hands on a sturdy support object.
- With your toes pointing straight ahead, slide one foot forward so you’re in a staggered stance.
- Brace your core, then shift onto the balls of both feet.
- Pause here and slowly lower your heels back down. That’s one repetition.
- Complete all reps.
Make it harder: Do calf raises with one foot at a time, resting the toes of the opposite foot on the ground for balance.
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Walk Tall Strength Move #7: Clam Shell
Why it works: This move works the side glutes in a slightly different way than the side steps. It’s also great for hip mobility.
- Carefully make your way to the floor.
- Lie on one side with your legs stacked and knees bent at a 45° angle.
- From here, keeping your hips steady and your top foot down, lift only your top knee as high as you comfortably can. Your legs should mimic a clam opening.
- Pause here, then slowly lower your knee. That’s one repetition.
- Complete all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Make it harder: Place a resistance band around your thighs for an extra challenge.
Walk Tall Strength Move #8: Glute Bridge
Why it works: Bridges target your hamstrings, glutes, and back while stretching the front of your body.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and hip-width apart, and feet flat on the floor.
- Relax your arms at your sides.
- Engage your glutes and core and press into your heels to lift your hips off the ground.
- Your body should form a straight line between your knees and chest.
- Hold for a few seconds, then lower.
Make it harder: Place your heels closer to your glutes.
Walk Tall Strength Move #9: Bird Dog
Why it works: This exercise (shown at the top of the article) targets the muscles deep in your core that play an important role in stabilizing your spine.
- Come onto your hands and knees, stacking hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Feel free to use a mat or towel to cushion your knees.
- Engage your core and raise your right arm and left leg as high as you can, until they’re in line with your body.
- Your neck should be in line with your back, and your gaze should be slightly down or forward.
- Hold for a few seconds and lower. That’s one repetition.
- Complete all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Make it easier: Alternate raising your leg and then your arm. Or do this move standing using one of the “Standing Bird Dog Progressions” shown here. When doing the move standing, keep your knees slightly bent and your spine neutral.
Walk Tall Strength Move #10: Core Extension
Why it works: Traditional crunches can put added pressure on your back. But this variation works your core in a healthy way. Plus, you’ll love the stretch through your shoulders and chest.
- To prepare, fold two thick bath towels in half longways and roll them up tight.
- Lie down on the floor or on your bed and place the towels behind your midback, right behind your shoulder blades.
- Keep your glutes on the floor or bed, and place your hands behind your head.
- Start in a neutral spine position, with your neck in line with your hips.
- From here, extend your upper body back over the towels as far as is comfortable.
- Pause and then use your core muscles (not your hands) to lift your head and upper body back up to neutral.
Here are the other steps in the 7-Day Power Your Walk Challenge:
Step #1: Pick a Power Your Walk Challenge Walking Plan
Step #2: Find Your Walking Workouts
Step #3: Stretch to Ease Achy Joints and Boost Mobility
Step #5: Eat Right to Walk Strong
Step #6: Have a Plan for Indoor Days
Step #7: Stay Committed to Your Walking Goals
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