10 Tips for a Better Walking Workout

This expert advice will help you feel better, have more fun, and burn more calories while you walk.

October 1, 2014
walking outside
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Although it’s not considered a killer workout like, say, P90X or marathon training, research shows that walking is still an awesome form of exercise and can lower your risk of dangerous conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. That said, when it comes to walking for your health, you can stroll or you can really walk.

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Want to make every step count? We consulted the experts to find out how to power up your walking workout to burn more calories, tone up all over, and banish boredom:

Tip #1: Know your heart-rate training range. You get the most out of your cardio workout when your heart is in your own personal “training range,” which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate, and high-intensity levels. Joan Pagano, a certified trainer in New York City and author of Strength Training Exercises for Women, suggests using the traditional, easy method of subtracting your age from 220, which should give you a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate (EMHR) -- that is, how fast your heart will beat during all-out exertion. “Since nobody can sustain this level of exercise for long, we take 60 to 90 percent of EMHR to develop a training range with a continuum of low to high intensity,” says Pagano.

Tip #2: Think short, quick steps. That's the key to a faster pace, and the faster you walk, the more calories you burn. "When you take steps that are too long, you have a choppy stride, which slows you down," says Sarah-Lorge Butler, author of Walk Your Butt Off. "But short, quick steps allow for a smooth, rolling stride and make it easier for you to pick up some speed. "

Tip #3: Land on your heels. A little bit of attention to your walking technique can help make it more fun and comfortable, says Lorge-Butler. Instead of landing with your whole foot -- and making a clomp, clomp, clomp sound -- let your heel be the first part of your foot to hit the ground. Focus on keeping your toes up as you land, she says, and then smoothly roll from your heel to toe.

 

Tip #4: Switch up your surfaces. Try a dirt trail one day, a road the next, a treadmill on rainy days, and maybe even a rubberized track. "By changing the surface, you'll reduce the risk of injury and keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut," says Lorge-Butler. Bonus: When you take your walking workout to a track, it's fun to see how fast you can go on a measured distance.

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Tip #5: Enlist a buddy. Just like playing against someone a little better than you in basketball will improve your game, walking with someone a little faster than you will help you burn more calories -- and get you to work toward sustaining a better pace, says NYC-based trainer and fitness expert Larysa DiDio. “That person will make you work harder, burning more calories,” she says. “This also keeps you accountable so you actually stick to your workout. A little competition is fun, too.”

Tip #6: Add intervals. Add short intervals of jogging or faster walking to your basic walking workout, and you’ll up your cardio conditioning and boost calorie burn. “A good rule of thumb for determining the pattern of the intervals is to rest for twice the length of the exertion,” says Pagano. “You can use time or distance to measure your intervals.” To use time, pick up the pace for one to three minutes, and allow twice as long to recover at a more moderate pace. To use distance, pick landmarks like trees or streetlights to measure the length of your intervals, jog or fast walk to a landmark, and then allow a landmark roughly twice the distance to recover.

 

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Tip #7: Pump it up. It sounds simple -- and it is! When you’re walking, focus on arm movements. You should be pumping those guns at all times, because the more you move 'em, the better your workout. “Really pump your arms when you walk to burn extra calories and tone up your arm muscles in the process,” DiDio says.

Tip #8: Get inclined. “Adding stairs and inclines into your walking route builds bone density in your hips and firms up your glutes,” Pagano says. To boost your workout further, power up stairs two at a time. This tones the glutes in your buttocks. “Any time you climb up steps or inclines, you are also creating bone deposition in your hip bones," Pagano says. "And doing double-footed hops down the stairs also stimulates bone formation in your hips."

Tip #9: Get a buzz. The right kind of buzz, that is -- one you can create with a little cup of coffee and the right workout playlist. “Walking to fast music naturally makes you walk faster, and tone up quicker," DiDio says. “And drink a little caffeine before you go. Studies show it can make you go faster and longer.”

Tip #10: Mix up your routine. When you do the same routine for more than a few months, the cardiovascular and muscular systems stop improving because they’re used to the setup and no longer have to strain to adjust to your workout. Plus, you get bored. “At any level of fitness, you can boost your results by changing the variables of frequency, intensity, and time,” says Pagano. “Devise around different workouts and cycle through them.” Here are her suggestions:

High-gear: 30 minutes total. Include 5 minutes of warm up, 5 minutes of cool down, and sustain the fastest pace you can for 20 minutes in the middle.

Intervals: 45 minutes total. Alternate between high-intensity and recovery periods. Allow 10 minutes for warm up and 5 minutes for cool down. For 30
minutes, do 5 intervals of 2 minutes each at high intensity, alternating with 4 minutes of recovery at a slower or moderate pace.

Long, slow distance: 60 minutes total. Use a steady, moderate pace the entire time. If you can't do it all at once, break it up into 10 or 15 minute segments throughout the day -- you'll still get the same benefits.