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Doing walking as a workout can be a great way to improve your fitness with minimal impact on your joints and plenty of time in the fresh air. While many people think running, cycling, and hiking are the must-dos of exercise, walking workouts offer many of the same benefits.
Even if you prefer to walk in the gym, treadmill walking workouts are gaining in popularity by the day for a reason. They're a great way to monitor your fitness levels and push yourself in your workout. Plus, the extra support offered by the machine can be great for those just starting out exercising or with movement issues.
Walking workouts are just as good as any other type of exercise, whether you're looking to do walking for weight loss or just looking to keep your fitness up. Before investing in your pick of the best walking shoes, this is what you need to know about walking as a workout and the best ways to do it.
Why you should try walking as a workout
There are so many benefits of walking and it's appropriate for people of all fitness levels. "It promotes a range of movement to help keep joints supple and engaged, which builds strength and increases mobility," explains Steven Virtue (opens in new tab), a certified personal trainer.
Virtue, who is also fitness content and programming manager at Total Fitness (opens in new tab), continues, "It's a low-impact exercise too, which means it's particularly effective for stress and anxiety release. Plus, fresh air and time away from our screens are always essential when so many of us are still working from home or spending the day indoors."
While many people think that the speedier exercise wins out in the walking vs running for fitness debate, that's not the case. "Walking has so many wonderful health benefits but one that many people are unaware of is how amazing walking is to build strength," explains personal trainer David Wiener (opens in new tab).
Wiener, who is also the training and nutrition specialist at AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics (opens in new tab), says, "Walking constantly works your lower body and involves your quads, calves, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as your abdominal and back muscles too. Whilst walking is a type of aerobic activity and therefore mostly engages the slow-twitch muscle fibers, this doesn’t mean they are not helping to build muscles."
Ready to take your daily walk to the next level and reap the benefits of walking workouts? Our walking plans have got you covered, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned stroller.
The best walking workouts
1. Walking with weights
Walking with hand or ankle weights can be a great way to intensify your walking workout. "It'll make your effort input greater and work your muscles a lot harder," explains Wiener. "With any kind of exercise, weights will always add intensity and increase the demand on your heart and muscles, which boosts both your cardiovascular strength and muscle strength."
How to do a weighted walking workout:
- Choose your route: Weights are a great way to build intensity to a walking workout you're already comfortable with. Choose a route or workout that you know fairly well and start at a slow to moderate pace, building up from there.
- Add ankle weights into your walk: "Always make sure to keep the weights light to avoid any kind of injury or stress on your joints and bones."
- Use a weighted vest: "These are preferred by many athletes as it adds weight to your structure, distributing it evenly and making it easier to carry," says Wiener.
2. Interval walking
If you find workout motivation difficult and tend to get bored during your workouts, you may prefer an interval walking workout. "These involve walking at a normal, steady speed and then doing a quick power walk or even a running sprint," explains Wiener.
How to do an interval walking workout:
- Slow for five, quick for one: Start off by walking for five minutes, suggests the trainer, then sprint or walk at a quicker pace for one minute. Then go back to the slower pace, repeating for up to 30 minutes. "This will work by increasing your heart rate and bringing it back down again, which is much like the principles of HIIT training, which offers many health, fitness, and strength benefits," he says.
3. Real terrain walking
A real terrain walking workout could be for you. "Walking on a real terrain will make your muscles work a lot harder than if you were walking on a flat surface, like a treadmill. Walking on real terrain such as trails, roads or grass will make your muscles work harder by trying to maintain stability, compared to if you were walking on a completely flat surface."
How to do a real terrain walking workout:
- Plan your route: A walking workout on real terrain requires you to have a route planned out. Download one of the best fitness apps to get started like Komoot or AllTrails and plan your workout in advance using the excellent mapping features specific to your area.
- Wear the right footwear: While trainers will be fine in the gym, on the trails it's always better to keep your feet supported with a pair of the best hiking boots.
- Incorporate inclines: Real terrain walking will be challenging on its own as you'll have to navigate uneven ground and skirt around or climb over obstacles, but if you're looking to make it harder, pick a route with good incline intervals.
4. Incline walking
Walking is good exercise and one of the most versatile workouts out there. You can do it with the 12-3-30 workout in the gym or head outside, as noted, and go walking on real terrain. "Your lower leg comprises of the tibias, peroneals, gastrocnemius, and soleus, and when you switch from walking on a flat surface to an incline, they are all activated," says Wiener. "Therefore, you will be targeting these muscles, they'll be working harder, and this will result in building more muscle."
How to do an incline walking workout on an INDOOR TREADMILL:
- Walk 5 mins at 2% incline, 4mph, jump off the treadmill and perform 25 lunges.
- Walk 5 mins at a 3% incline, 4mph, jump off the treadmill and perform 25 reverse lunges.
- Walk 5 mins at a 4% incline, 4mph, jump off the treadmill, and complete 12 jumping lunges.
- Walk the final 5 mins at 5% incline, with 4mph to finish.
How to do an incline walking workout on STAIRS:
- Walk six flights of stairs (around 60 steps, repeating if you can’t find a tall enough set of stairs).
- Next, walk down, then jump on and off the last stair for 1 min.
- Then, walk four flights of stairs, missing out one stair on each step, then walk down.
- Form a plank with hands placed on the bottom step and perform mountain climbers for 45 secs.
- Walk up three flights, alternating between hopping up for three steps (hold on to the handrail) and walking up three steps.
5. HIIT walking workout
This four-week plan, created by celebrity personal trainer Hollie Philippa (opens in new tab), promises to get those glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves moving. If you're looking to improve your fitness with these walking workouts, it may be worth supplementing your HIIT walking workout with another form of LISS cardio, such as cycling.
The benefits of HIIT treadmill workouts are widely researched, with evidence from the University of New South Wales (opens in new tab) and Tsinghua University (opens in new tab) suggesting that they can help you burn more calories than many other types of exercise (including running), improve sleep, and boost your mood.
How to do a HIIT walking workout:
- Week 1: Power walk for 25 mins and complete 20 walking lunges before and after your walk.
- Week 2: Alternate your speed between as fast as you can go without breaking into a jog and a brisk walk for 30 mins.
- Week 3: Intersperse 20 walking lunges, 20 squats, and 20 star jumps with 5 mins of power walking in between each set.
- Week 4: Repeat the HIIT workout in Week 3, but try to up the number of reps to 30 and increase the power-walking pace, without losing form.
6. Power walking workout
Power walking is one of the most famous walking workouts and for good reason. If you're looking to increase the number of calories burned walking, this is one way to do it. You can do power walking with ankle weights or without, both ways will help to boost your muscles' strength and endurance, as well as improve your balance and walking gait.
The easiest way to do this workout will be on a treadmill but if you can't get to a gym, head for a hill. You will need one of the best fitness trackers like a Fitbit for this as you'll need to measure miles per hour. As a guide, think of 2 to 3mph as moderate and 6 to 6.5mph as very fast. The exercises are mostly self-explanatory, but just in case, a farmer’s walk consists of short and quick steps with weights on your ankles.
How to do a power walking workout:
- Walk 20 mins (moderate/2-3mph, increasing by 1mph every week).
- Single-leg calf raises x 20.
- Farmer’s walk with ankle weights x 30 secs.
- Jumping lunges x 20.
- Bridges with an exercise band around knees x 20.
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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