Does walking for weight loss work? Trainers reveal the mistakes you could be making with your step count

Walking for weight loss is a great way to get in shape, but this what trainers want you to know to get it right

Women's feet in running trainers along gravel path, walking for weight loss
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Walking for weight loss may not be the first activity that springs to mind when you're thinking about the most effective fat-burning exercises, but it can be an excellent way to achieve your goals and help you get fitter with less impact on your joints than running.

Not only does walking deliver results if you're looking to lose weight, it can also boost other aspects of your health. Indeed, it's a low-impact form of fitness so you experience less pressure on your bones, joints, and tendons, and its benefits for mental health are well established.

But before you hit the pavements with your pick of the best walking shoes to make the most of this easily-accessible cardio exercise, take a look at these myth-busting tips from the experts. We've spoken to trainers specializing in weight loss with cardio activity to determine the biggest mistakes people make when walking for weight loss, to help you ensure your walking workouts are the most effective they can be.

Does walking for weight loss work?

Yes, walking for weight loss really works. It's a great tool for increasing your energy expenditure, says Aroosha Nekonam, senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance. "To lose weight and shift fat, you need to create an energy deficit. This is where you burn more calories than you consume in a day and the best way to achieve it is through a combination of reducing your calories and increasing your physical activity. So, walking can be a great way to do more exercise."

On average, if you're looking to burn between 1lb and 2lb per week (which is the maximum weight loss recommended by both the NHS and CDC), then you'll need to be in a deficit of around 500 calories per day. While you'll eventually reach a weight loss plateau where this will no longer be effective, it's a good place to start. 

A deficit of calories per day roughly works out to 3,500 calories per week and, while the science is not fully agreed on around this, research by Max Wishnofsky suggests you need a deficit between 3,436 and 3,752 (depending on a variety of bodily factors) to lose 1lb of weight. To lose more, you'll need to build a bigger deficit by increasing the number of calories burned walking.

However, it really does need to be a balance of both an increase in exercise and a change in the number of calories you eat every day. "If you go walking for 30 minutes a day but if you aren't complementing that with a reduction in calories, your fat loss efforts will be stunted."

Group of women wearing hiking clothes and carrying water bottles in the cold weather

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Mistakes to avoid when walking for weight loss

1. Not lengthening your spine

Most of us tend to walk while slightly hunched over, having spent many hours sitting throughout the day. But if you want to get all the benefits of walking, not just those linked to weight loss, then it's important to adjust your posture.

"Walking tall will lift your head, relax your shoulders, help you go faster, and ease any lower back pain you might experience," says trainer Chris Richardson, who specializes in ultra Pilates, sports science, and conditioning. Try focusing on a spot way ahead of you in the distance. 

Don't forget about your lower body too. "Avoid turning your feet outwards or inwards, collapsing the arch of your foot, or just walking on your toes," adds Richardson, who is also the founder of Zero Gravity Pilates. "Aim to strike the ground with your heel first and then roll through your foot to your toe, pushing forward into the next step with your toes." 

2. Clenching

It's perfectly natural to tighten your bottom cheeks when walking - but it could be the root of niggling aches and pains. "If you release them, you'll get a natural sway, which helps reduce back tension," notes Richardson. 

A bonus is that it will also make your stomach muscles work harder too, contributing to muscle growth around the abdominal area. So if you're after the best ab workouts for women, this could be a great place to start.

Woman with her back to the camera walking away in activewear and trainers

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3. Long strides

Walking for weight loss requires a slightly different technique when it comes to how you pace your steps. Indeed, it may surprise you to learn that taking long strides is going to work against you. 

"It might seem natural to want to walk fast," notes Richardson. "But taking giant steps will overtax your leg muscles and place strain on your knee joints. Shorter really does equal more calorie-burning speed in this case." 

4. Not pulling in your belly button

Also known as bracing your core, you want to pull your belly button in towards your spine as you walk. This keeps your stomach and back muscles tight for stability, and can also relieve any stress or pressure on your lower back. "Keep it there, but without holding your breath," advises Richardson. "It's tricky at first, but combined with cardio-pumping power walking it does help to tone up your middle." 

If your core is strong already, you could always add some ankle weights to your walking routine. This will help increase the number of calories you burn per workout as the small weights increase the resistance your body must move through as you walk.

Two women walking over a grassy hill wearing activewear and hiking clothes

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5. Not walking fast enough

The faster you move, the more calories you're going to burn. As the University of New Mexico explains, when we move our muscles, we repeatedly form and break down a molecule known as adenosine triphosphate. The energy released from this fuels the muscle movement, increasing the energy demands on the body and raising the number of calories we burn. 

Not sure how fast should you go? Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a general practitioner specializing in exercise medicine, explains that a good calorie-burning walk will be one where you sweat a little bit, and feel your heart rate rise but you can still hold a conversation. If you’ve got one of the best Fitbits or a fitness tracker of any kind, try to stick to 100 steps a minute (2.7mph) - anything above 130 steps a minute would count as a vigorous walk. 

Tips for walking for weight loss

  • Add a great soundtrack: Research from the Fairleigh Dickinson University revealed that women who walked at least three times a week to music lost around 16lb in six months, whereas those who walked in silence lost 8lb. So grab your headphones and listen to your favorite playlist while you walk. You could try one of the best meditation apps too.
  • Head towards nature: Live near woodland? Try walking meditation and explore all the benefits of hiking. As you walk, submerge yourself in your surroundings by breathing in the aromas and focusing on the greenery. What's more, findings from the mental health organisation Mind showed that taking a walk in nature increased sensations of happiness in 71% of participants.
  • Sign up for a charity walk: Not only will you raise money for a good cause, but it will give you something to aim for and that's some of the best motivation you can find. 
  • Grab some poles: Some walking poles can ramp up the calorie-run by as much as 20%, thanks to the inclusion of your arms. The right technique is key though: swing poles so that the one in your right-hand strikes the ground as your left foot hits the floor, then the left-hand pole hits as your right foot strikes the ground, and so on. 

30-day walking for weight loss plan

Take a look at these different walking for weight loss plans, based on the number of steps you're currently doing. Then twice a week, do extra-brisk walks. Each should take 10 to 15 minutes, building up to 20 to 25 minutes.

  • Beginner? If your daily average step count is less than 5,000, opt for the Novice Level
  • Daily output between 5,000 and 7,500? Go for the Intermediate Level
  • If your daily average is 7,500+, choose the Whizz Level

DAYS 1 - 7

  • Novice: 5,000 steps
  • Intermediate: 7,000 steps
  • Whizz: 7,500 steps

DAYS 8 - 14

  • Novice: 5,550 steps
  • Intermediate: 7,500 steps
  • Whizz: 8,000 steps

DAYS 15 - 22

  • Novice: 6,000 steps
  • Intermediate: 8,000 steps
  • Whizz: 9,000 steps

DAYS 23 - 30

  • Novice: 6,500 steps
  • Intermediate: 8,500 steps
  • Whizz: 10,000 steps
Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships.

With contributions from