Fitness Articles

When Walking Isn't Enough

How to Add Variety to Your Walking Program

539SHARES
It’s hard to say enough about the benefits of walking for weight loss and general health, both physical and mental. It definitely belongs on your to-do list as often as possible. That’s why you’ll find an extensive collection of information on walking for people at every fitness level in SparkPeople's Walking Guide and Fitness Resource Center.

But many people will eventually reach the point where walking alone isn’t enough to help them achieve their personal fitness and weight loss goals. Here's how to determine if walking is no longer working for you, and what you can do about it.

Pay attention to your heart rate. To get the most benefit from your cardio exercise, you need to elevate your heart rate to a specific level, known as your target heart rate zone. This zone is a range between 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. This range will maximize your calorie burn and allow you to continue improving your endurance, conditioning and overall fitness level. As your fitness level improves, your walking workout will become easier. After a while, it can become extremely difficult to increase your walking intensity (speed) enough to keep your heart rate in that training zone for the length of your workout—even if you include hills or inclines.

Especially if you have a limited amount of time for exercise, you no doubt want to make the most of your time by keeping both your calorie burn and the training benefits as high as possible. When your walking routine no longer elevates your heart rate above 70% of your max, walking alone probably isn't enough to reach your goals. In this case, it’s time to add some different aerobic exercises into your program that will be challenging enough to keep your heart rate elevated.

Look at your exercise routine. Although walking may be the safest and easiest way for most people to begin a regular exercise routine (especially you've been inactive for a while, you've got a lot of weight to lose, or you have medical concerns that limit what you can do), you still need to incorporate some variety into your exercise program. Here's why:
  1. Your body adapts itself to exercise you do on a regular basis. Over the course of about six weeks, it will “learn” how to perform an activity more efficiently, which means you'll will burn fewer calories overall. Likewise, if you don't continuously increase the intensity of your workouts, they will no longer stimulate your muscles or your cardiovascular system enough to provide training benefits.
  2. Your body responds to the specific exercises you do. Therefore, you need to do a variety of exercises to effectively condition your entire body and improve your overall fitness. In other words, when you walk, you condition your body for walking. You'll be able to walk faster and longer, but that won't make you a better runner, golfer, tennis player, or swimmer. Nor will it make your "walking muscles" or your cardiovascular system any stronger than they need to be—just strong enough to handle the walking you do. And, of course, walking alone doesn't train your other muscles.
For all these reasons, it’s a good idea to expand your exercise repertoire to include a variety of activities and intensity levels. And you don’t need to wait until you’ve gone as far as you can go with your walking program.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 2   Next Page ›
539SHARES

Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

More Great Features

Connect With SparkPeople

Subscribe to our Newsletters

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • oh i love the outside walking it fun to me i walk by my self
    - 8/7/2014 2:49:38 AM
  • I used to walk and liked it. Can't any more because of back problems. - 7/28/2014 6:04:49 AM
  • Nordic Walking is incredible! I love going out with my poles. Love hiking with them. Less wear and tear on the joints, and if you already have joint problems, well, the poles help you so much! You get more of a work out without feeling like you have had more of a workout. Fantastic. - 4/3/2012 1:24:35 PM
  • I agree - with Nordic Walking poles, you are also working your upper body and substantially increasing your calorie burn. Good for your posture, too! - 3/27/2012 3:40:15 PM
  • Good article - for a more complete walking workout - add poles (Nordic Walking) and exercise the UPPER body at the same time.

    I walk four times a week (Tues - Friday) with a local walking group. In May I joined a Nordic Pole Walking group on Saturday mornings - this has been a great experience adding variety and a completely new dimension to walking. Now, when I walk by myself I take my poles along.

    Walking with Nordic Poles is easy to learn, not as tiring, reduced body pains (legs), extended distances and increased walking speed. - 8/29/2011 5:07:11 PM
  • So, what happens when after you "mix it up"--start running, lifting weights, etc. etc. and still nothing changes? I am stuck at a plateau that will not budge. My body has adapted to everything. I have tried it all--more calories, less calories; run, walk, resistance training, yoga, you name it. Now what? - 8/21/2011 5:38:10 PM
  • I find a lot of benefit in doing intervals - either the "Scouts' Pace" approach or Covert Bailey's sprints or mixing it up as Figsandolives does. It certainly increases the intensity but doesn't place the same demands on joints as continuous running or jogging would. There's a lot of long-term research supporting the interval approach; Covert Bailey's advocated it for at least 15 years that I know of. - 8/21/2011 3:47:31 PM
  • Coach Dean,
    Just what I needed to read today. I just finished 4 weeks of 10 minutes a day, and my exercise consisted of walking. I list it as hiking because just walking out the front door is uphill. But I do need to step it up. I am not at all regular on strength training, and need to be.
    Thanks for the very timely article. - 8/21/2011 2:31:51 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    I also love the Walk Away the Pounds DVDs. I bump up the calorie burn by wearing 1.5 lb wrist weights, and also sometimes holding 2 lb hand weights during the workouts. I can really feel that added resistance, especially when doing the fast-paced 5 mile DVD. I also do Zumba, the elliptical at the gym with a resistance program, and have incorporated resistance training with the weight machines at the gym. At home, I use resistance bands or hand held weights with different DVDs.

    When it's cool enough to walk outdoors, my neighborhood route provides several hills for a good cardio workout. - 8/21/2011 1:56:57 PM
  • Great advice Dean. I agree that walking alone won't cut it. After awhile you can feel it getting easy, then you need to change things up. I joined a gym and take a variety of cardio and strength training classes like step, zumba, kettle bells and body pump and have been getting good results. I also use the eliptical and treadmils, but when using them I either use the fat burn or cardio programs that measure your heart rate while using the machine. These programs keep you in your target heart range by adjusting the resistance or incline throughout your workout. It's great because you don't have to think about it. Just put on your headphones and go for it! - 8/21/2011 7:54:33 AM
  • It would have been helpful to include the details of calculating your target heart rate. - 8/21/2011 6:47:29 AM
  • Don't forget Nordic walking (AKA Pole-walking)!!! It boosts your calorie consumption and also gives you more of an upper body workout than regular walking. Great for people who need a low-impact alternative to running, or as a good cross-training sport. I've been NW for years and I love it! - 8/21/2011 6:45:52 AM
  • Walking is a great activity because almost anyone can do it. But I do agree that is n't always enought, and sometimes you just can't - sorained ankle, bad knees, sore feet, etc. I like swimming as an alternate, and if you can walk but it just ins't enough anymore, try doing some elliptical training. It is a much more difficult workout. Biking can be a challenge too.
    I like to mix things up = yoga, dancing, hula hooping, aerobics: It's all good. Even going up & down stairs changes it up to boost the weight loss. - 8/21/2011 12:13:49 AM
  • I love walking! Really fast. And I can even step it up a notch here in our own back yard as our 40 acre orchard is built on a bit of a slope so I enjoy walking up the rows to get my heart rate up and then down them to slow it down, thereby increasing my calorie burn that more. And some good fast, paced music in time with my fast walking pace makes it so much more enjoyable! - 8/15/2011 1:42:13 AM
  • For months last year I walked...at work and at home. Usually I would go a little over a mile at a time, and I went quite slowly. It would take me close to half an hour to walk my mile.

    This winter I bought a couple Leslie Sansone DVD's and started walking at home, when it was so cold and icy outside. Leslie incorporates hand and arm movements and different steps into the walking. She also sped me up considerably! I was able to go outside and walk a couple times last week, as our temps soared into the 50's, 60's, and 70's. I did my outside mile in about 20 minutes! I'm hoping speeding up my times will be enough variety in my exercising so that it will stay effective in helping me drop the pounds. Walking is about all I can do, I have bad shoulders (arthritis affects all my joints), my knees are bad and my hips are horrible. It really limits me as far as the kinds of exercising I can do, but walking seems to hurt the least. Even with 155 lbs. less weight on them, my joints still hurt, in fact my hips seem to have gotten worse. It might be all the walking, but I refuse to give it up! - 2/22/2011 12:56:23 PM
Popular Calories Burned Searches: Swimming: backstroke  |  Swimming: breaststroke  |  Swimming: butterfly