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Starting a Walking Club

Starting a Walking Club
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BY KITT WALSH

A recent visit to the doctor revealed I need more exercise and that the exercise mustn’t involve running, lunging or squats as my left knee is missing cartilage. So the doctor suggested I walk and do so religiously. Knowing me, I will do best with other people to egg me on, so I researched how to start a Walking Club.

Here’s what I learned:

Pick a demographic

A Walking Club works well with between 5 and 15 members, but it should be decided if the group will be open to everybody, no matter their fitness level or age, or if it should be made up of al people over 50 or from other groups like Beginners, Powerwalkers, Nordic Pole Walkers, Couples Only, People with Heart Disease or Diabetes or maybe just your neighbors.

Choose a name

Whether it is an amusing one, a neighborhood one or one that inspires, a name provides the cohesion that holds your new group together (and makes it a lot easier to promote).

Set a location

With winter coming, mall walking is popular, as it protects you from bad weather or you can use your local RecPlex or fitness club with an indoor track. If you are using a local mall, you may want to organize car-pooling to get there. If you use a fitness club’s indoor track, ensure that everyone is a member and you’ve cleared it with management. You may also choose to meet outside on fair weather days at a local park or hiking trails, but if you do so, make sure the trail you use is relatively flat and can accommodate a few people across without getting in the way of other walkers, joggers or bikers. Single file walking is better than nothing, but it doesn’t promote the camaraderie that is one of a Walking Group’s greatest strengths. Also, if you are using an outdoor venue, establish a Facebook page for the group (or if you are truly Old School, a phone tree) where members can check if the walk is “on” for that day before they set out in iffy weather.

Establish a time

The Club should meet at the same time every week. The less confusion about the time and place means better turnout and less people dropping out as they try to readjust schedules. If your group has lots of members who work, choose an early morning time to walk to fit it in before people have to go to their offices. Or you can try for weekend walks, although working folks and parents of young kids may be too booked on a Saturday and Sunday may interfere with church or other activities. If you want to beat the crowds, pick a weekday afternoon start, but be sure you pick a time not too close to noon to avoid the heat of the day. You should aim to meet twice a week for 75 minutes or more of moderate intensity walking.

Promote your Walking Club

The American Heart Association provides a free Meetup Everywhere page at: http://www.meetup.com/American-Heart-Association-Walking-Clubs.

Click on “Start A New Community” and enter the name of your location. Sign in using your Facebook account or by following the prompts to join “Meetup”. On the Welcome Page, enter a date and time for your walks and suggest a place. Save the info. You can add more information at “More Details”, remembering to save everything when you are done typing. Click “Count Me In” and your group’s Meetup page is ready to use.

You will get an electronic invite. RSVP and sit back to watch other interested walkers join the Meetup. Your Club will join others on a global map on the site showing all the Walking Clubs in the area and the routes they take.

Also, make use of social media—spread the word to all your Facebook friends (asking them to spread the word to their friends) and send out regular tweets on Twitter. Take the more traditional route and put up flyers at the library, grocery, bookstores, coffee shops, company cafeteria, vet’s offices and church/synagogue bulletin boards, making sure to give interested people an email and phone number where they can get more information.

Hold a meeting

Many of the things mentioned above can be settled at an introductory meeting (though you may find it easier to make the decisions beforehand without trying to sort through 40 opinions.) Play host. Have some healthy snacks and drinks to let everyone interested know about the club. Ask attendees to share why they are considering joining. Use those goals in scheduling the walks.

Go for a test walk

Get the group out for their first walk together and then ask everyone what they liked or didn’t like about the walk. Incorporate their answers into the next walk you take together and before you know it, you will have honed the rough edges away and have a polished group, ready to help each other meet their fitness goals.

Keep up with members

Get contact information for all your members, including email addresses, and keep in touch with them. Post group photos and updates on the Facebook page. Encourage everyone to keep a walking journal. Announce goals and when they have been met (“We walked 100 miles together”) or (“As a group, the Walking Wonders have lost 500 pounds so far”). Invent friendly competitions. Buy trophies (and tiaras!) Give small prizes for achievements like pedometers or water bottles with the Club name. Plan group outings for coffee after a walk or a picnic at a remote spot you walked to (have a follow car carry the food and drink).

Switch it up

Try to have at least two alternate routes to keep people from getting bored or speed things up using interval-training technique. Start off with short bursts of fast walking, then slow down to a steady pace for a few blocks, then speed up again. This not only keeps peoples’ interest, but helps burn more calories. If you find your fellow walkers are just slogging along with their eyes on the ground, introduce a topic to discuss—like a walking book group or what is new in their lives. (Stay away from politics and religion unless you want someone to walk off in a huff.) Enter charity walks as a group—walking for a mission keeps everyone’s interest.

Remember why you are walking

Walking at a brisk pace lowers blood pressure; helps with weight loss and can improve lipids (cholesterol). Remind your group of these benefits and search the web to share other tips like the best shoes for walking or how to make their own fruit water to replenish liquids or the newest stretching techniques.

Keep recruiting

Members will drop out, give up or move away. Try to keep the numbers of your group up by constantly recruiting. You will end up with a core group who will stick it out, bad weather or not, through thick and thin. Reward members for their longevity and commitment (a gift card is nice touch. If you don’t want to spend your own money, tell the group there is a $5 monthly fee to join or pass the hat every now and again and tell them the funds are used for promotional supplies and incentives.)

No excuses

You are the founding member of this club, so use that fact to motivate yourself and the other group members. Show up for every walk and, not only will you be able to pat yourself on the back for your dedication, but you will serve as an example to the others. So lace up those shoes and get out there.

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