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8 Ways to Step Up Your Walking Workouts

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Walking is a great form of exercise, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned athlete. It’s cheap. It’s accessible. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. And it’s something that nearly everyone can do.

Walking is a big part of my own fitness program. In addition to higher-intensity workouts that include running and Spinning, I get out and walk about 4 times per week to shake things up and get a little active recovery. Bonus: In addition to elevating your heart rate and increasing circulation, walking at a brisk pace can burn up to 300 calories per hour!

When you’re new to fitness, walking is a great way to start. But as you get fitter, can you still make walking work for you without turning into a runner? You bet! Here are some of my top recommendations to step-up the intensity of your walks.

1. Add (the right kind of) weight. While SparkPeople doesn’t recommend holding weights in your hands, wearing wrist weights or strapping on ankle weights in order to burn more calories or up your intensity, you can safely add weight to your walks by wearing a weighted vest. Unlike weights held at (or strapped to) your extremities, which can alter your normal movement patterns and gait, thereby increasing your risk of injury, a weighted vest centers the weight on your body so you can increase the intensity safely. Most weighted vests are adjustable, meaning you can start with less weight and slowly add more as you become accustomed to it. They’ll vary in price, but comfort and close-fit to your body are a must. We loved testing this 10-pound vest sent to us by Hyper Wear (retail $169.99), but you can find more economical options online and at sporting goods stores. Hint: Always try them on for comfort and fit; a good weighted vest should be snug, adjustable and keep the weight close to your body.

2. Add incline. If you walk outdoors, take to the hills. If you use a treadmill, it’s time to ramp up the incline. When walking on flat surfaces begins to feel easier, you can keep challenging yourself by playing up the incline. Even walking at the same pace, you’ll burn more calories. Walking uphill also helps strengthen your bones better than walking on flat surfaces does. I have a love-hate relationship with the hills of Cincinnati. They’re everywhere—and they’re steep. As much as they tire me out whether I’m running or walking, I also know that they’re helping me get fitter. With hill walking, be sure to do your share of downhill walking, too, to help balance out and strengthen your muscles. Just remember: What goes up must come down. No hills around? Take the stairs!

3. Add speed. This is one of the simplest things you can do boost the benefits of your walks, but be sure to do it carefully. To add speed, try to avoid taking longer or larger steps. Instead, take your normal-sized steps or slightly smaller steps and focus on a quicker turnover. Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your shoulders relaxed as you pump your arms for additional momentum and balance, keeping your arms close to your body. Another great thing about walking faster (besides greater calorie burn) is that you’ll cover more distance in less time—a great technique for busy days.

4. Add intervals. Interval training, where you alternate higher and lower intensities throughout your workout, yields better fitness improvements and higher calorie burn than continuous or “steady-state” training alone. It can also help you improve your speed and amp up your walking intensity gradually. You can do intervals based on speed or incline (anything that gets you working harder)—even running! Then, you follow up with a lower-intensity recovery pace and repeat as many intervals as you’d like during your workout session. To learn more about interval training, read this article. Want to see some examples? Check out these interval workouts for walkers designed by Coach Jen.

5. Add volume. I’m all for music-free workouts that allow you to focus on your form, your body, or even the scenery. But many research studies have shown that listening to music gives exercisers a competitive edge that helps them go harder and longer before feeling fatigue. When you start increasing the intensity of your walks, consider adding a soundtrack to your workouts to you’re your body press a little harder or further.

6. Add poles. Nordic walking, which uses poles and can be done in any climate, is a great way to add more muscle power and intensity to your program. According to the Cooper Institute, Nordic walking burns 20% more calories than walking alone (sans poles). What’s more, Nordic walkers don’t perceive the intensity of their walks as harder, even though their heart rates are higher and they’re using more muscle fibers. Sounds like a win-win to me!

7. Subtract the treadmill. Treadmills are great when the weather is bad, you don’t live in a safe area, or you can’t get out of the house on certain days. But treadmills definitely make your walking workouts easier than they would be outdoors. If you’re ready to take your walks to the next level, hop off the treadmill and get walking on the ground—even if it’s indoors, like at a mall. You’ll use more muscle power (treadmills actually propel you forward), burn more calories—and really notice the difference! Learn more about how treadmills can cheat you out of a good workout here.

8. Subtract fancy "toning" shoes. They may claim to activate more muscles, burn more calories, and target your buns and thighs, but a recent independent study spearheaded by the American Council on Exercise found that these expensive products don't live up to their claims. Save your dollars and get better results than any get-fit-fast shoe can promise by incorporating the advice above.

No matter what your fitness level, walking makes for great exercise that can grow with you! Be sure to check out SparkPeople’s comprehensive Walking Guide for more tips, workouts and get-fit strategies!

Is walking part of your fitness routine? What’s your favorite way to add intensity to your walks?

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USMAWIFE 5/31/2020
thank you Report
REDROBIN47 2/25/2020
Good information. Thank you. Report
NEPTUNE1939 1/23/2020
ty Report
MARITIMER3 12/12/2019
Walking, along with swimming, are my main exercises. I use the treadmill more than I walk outdoors, and challenge myself by doing virtual walks. I increase my incline and speed regularly and do faster intervals as part of most workouts. I am 76, and have lost 34 lbs. so far on SP by tracking all my food, using Intermittent Fasting and following the Beck programme. Report
Thanks Report
Good to know! Report
Love to walk! Report
Great! Report
Very good need-to-know information, thanks! Report
Thank you. Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Great article! Report
Great article. Would have jumped on that weighed vest but who can afford...10-pound vest sent to us by Hyper Wear (retail $169.99) ?!?!?!?!??! Report
There are some very steep hills in my neighborhood and I use those to add intensity to my walk. Report
Thanks Report
I love walking both ways. Report
Thanks for great advice Report
Great advice. Report
good information. Thank you. Report
I walk to accomplish a task, so carry something! Report
Great advice and as usual, telling us what we already knew but chose to ignore or "forget" Report
Great advice! Thank you! Report
Thank you so much Report
Oh,yeah, Sparkfriend! I count my imaginary million dollars and how I would spend it. Report
Walking used to be a joy, but my bad knees and lousy balance make it hard now. Report
I love to walk, thanks for great info Report
I walk all the time. Today I was walking from where I parked my car for work and it was all uphill and then 20 stairs. I was out of breath by the time I got to my office. Loved it! Report
I walk at work when I can. There isn't much intensity, but I enjoy it. Report
Great tips! Report
Really informative thanks! Report
Really informative thanks! Report
Thanks for the suggestions Report
I walk every day at lunch. Some days its flat course other days I change it and for the hills! It also helps clear the mind from work. Report
Thanks for the great information! Report
Music really makes a difference! I walk faster with it. But I also get coaching for my form & interval walking with great music with the aaptiv app! It has changed my life--I now interval jog & hope to be able to run more than 2 minutes at a time someday. Report
good ideas Report
I wear walkfit insoles and without them, I cannot use any shoes. Removing them to go back to flat soles would make it impossible for me to walk at all. Report
Great suggestions! Report
This is great information to know. I am a walker. Report
I wear Shape ups not for any potential muscle benefit but because I find them so much better than flat shoes for my plantar facsciitis. They take the pressure right off the heel bone where the pain is intense. Report
Why recommend ditching the curved bottom shoes to 'step up the intensity'? The (one article, unconfirmed findings) states that the study (conducted for only 5 min intervals, really?) shows no statistically improvement. It does not state that under any terms that reverting back to flat bottoms will help you. It also basically states that if folks are motivated and comfortable with them, then why not wear them? I disagree with the article, in that they def 'lift the bum up'. Maybe its an age thing (study was on early 20 year they would need a lift...really?). The shoes are like walking on the beach....lower impact, and different muscle group. I alternate them into my routine, and they have also improved my posture. Report
I am totally agree with your article.Walking is part of my routine. ...!! Report
Everyone should go to morning walk regularly.By which you will feel very energetic and fresh in whole day..........!!!

Walking is my primary form of exercise.I like your ideas about Fitness Topics.and also everyone should follow All your steps.

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Sadly, walking faster does not mean better calorie burn. You can burn more calories at a brisk 3 miles per hour (20 minute mile) than if you walk a 17 minute mile.

Crazy. Report
Walking -- and hiking -- is my favorite exercise! I am a long-distance backpacker, although I haven't hiked more than 50 miles at a trip in several years. Still, when I am home, I walk with or without my pack for that great outdoors / wilderness feeling. I am really lucky that I have a 3.5 mile walk in the woods just steps outside my door -- and the added benefit is a 450 ft elevation gain (and loss) along the way. On my "feeling flat" days, I get my partner to drop me about 5 or 6 miles from home and I walk back. Report