Walking early and often can help you lose weight and shred bodyfat while preserving muscle.
Read time: 15 minutes
Walking, also known by the more badass “marching” or even “covering long distances by foot” is the most basic form of human locomotion. Walking can help you on your quest to shred bodyfat and preserve precious muscle.
Soldiers covering long distances by foot.
Early humans started walking upright (became bipedal) almost 2 million years ago.
Since we’ve been upright, walking (and running) has pretty much shaped the modern world as we know it.
Walking is how we left the motherland (the heart of Africa) and spread to every region around the globe.
It’s a shame we don’t do it more, because the benefits are absolutely fantastic! (more on this below)
Walking is a form of cardiovascular exercise, related to jogging and running.
In order for something to count as cardiovascular EXERCISE, it must elevate your heart rate for a certain period of time.
Guidelines (according to the World Health Organization) state that this period should be at least 20 minutes, every day.
Walking, being less intense, can be worked up to about 45 – 120 minutes, depending on a variety of factors.
Intensity and YOU
Technically the rule is that the less intense a form of exercise is, the longer it can be done.
For example, If you were to just bust out into an all-out sprint, you would do it for less time because of the energy demands.
Intensity is inversely correlated with duration, basically meaning the harder it is, the less time you can do it for.
Intensity is also correlated with injury risk, with more intense forms of cardio making you more prone to injury.
The injury rate for walking is extremely low, and most injuries are overuse injuries related to doing too much too soon, or freak accidents such as twisting an ankle on a hazard.
Walking is extremely easy on joints, as opposed to jogging, running, and most sports.
Walk more and your heart, cardiovascular system, joints and muscles will thank you.
Walk Your Way to a Spotless Mind
Not only will your body get healthier, but so will your mind and mental health.
Walking can BULLETPROOF your mental health, calm your mind, and ease anxiety, especially if you take notes and journal while you’re out and about, practice meditative techniques, and walk in a relaxing environment.
Do not overlook the benefits of walking, or think that walking is ONLY for absolute beginners.
Walking should be done by everyone, even the super fit and seasoned gym rats alike, if not only for the mental health benefits!
Benefits of walking
Here are some of the MANY benefits of walking. The benefits go well beyond this list, but for brevity’s sake, I won’t bore you with every tiny detail.
Walking Is Great for Cardiovascular System
Walking gets your blood flowing and heart pumping. When combined in a complete workout and nutrition program, it can help lower blood pressure and preserve heart health. All cardiovascular exercise is an absolute panacea for health.
Walking Does Not Interfere With Strength or Size
A lot of bodybuilders use walking for cardio for just this reason. Walking is not all that intense, making it perfect for those that need to save precious fuel for intense weight room effort. HIIT, running, hard cycling and rowing all may interfere with strength training when done intensively. Walking is gentle on your body, as opposed to jogging and running, which require tons of energy, and bash the joints. I’m not saying running isn’t an excellent form of exercise, because it is. I run all the time, and it should be a part of most workout routines. The problem is that running can drain you quick, and running before a workout is a no-go, so you need to use it smartly and sparingly.
Walking is Dirt Cheap
Walking literally costs nothing. All you really need is a good pair of shoes (you could even forgo shoes if you really wanted), some comfortable clothes, and a good attitude. You need no expensive equipment, no unnecessary machines, and no bull. Just lace ’em up and go!
Walking Relieves Stress
Walking, as with any other form of cardio, stresses the body, but this is good stress! This stress helps the body adapt to bad stress and helps your body cope better. Walking also has the added benefit of being less intense, letting you think things out to clear your head AND get your cardio in at the same time. If you walk outside, you get the added bonus of nature and exploration.
Tip: Angry? Sad? Frustrated? go for a long walk before reacting to something or making any decisions. Chances are you’ll come back with a level head and better judgement.
Walking is Easy on the Joints
Walking is very easy on the ankles, knees, and hips, heavily used joints where problems start to occur as we age. Since it’s so gentle on the joints, walking can be done by almost everyone, if you take it slow and build up as I suggest! Injuries happen when you try to do too much too soon, so take caution.
Where to Walk, How Fast to Walk, and How Long to Walk For
The great thing about walking is that you can do it anywhere, at any time.
Outdoors is best, and it’s also meditative.
Get out in nature and just walk!
If you must walk on a treadmill, that’s fine too.
Treadmills can be boring, but walking on a treadmill has a couple unique advantages: you can choose the grade (incline), speed, and you can also see the calories burned and even your heart rate and “zones”. You can also read awesome books or browse the ‘net and read cool sites like this one!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that EVERYONE, save for extenuating circumstances, should walk for 1-2 hours A DAY. YES EACH DAY. This means you need to make it a big part of your lifestyle…. BUT THIS IS EASY! That’s the beauty of walking… you can add it in anywhere once you build up to it.
Below is what we call “incidental” exercise, but it still counts.
Walk on your lunch break.
Take a walk after meals.
Have walking meetings.
Talk on the phone and walk.
Make it a point to park far away and walk.
Mow the lawn, use the snowblower, or just shovel!
Walk a lot while shopping (but don’t spend a lot of money… remember we’re Spartans here), working (treadmill desk!), reading (but be careful!) etc.
Take the dogs for a walk, take the kids for a walk, hell take the cats for a walk!
Always be in motion!
Work smarter, not harder, and make the fitness lifestyle work for you.
Special Types of Walking: Rucking, Hiking, Backpacking
Rucking is a military term, and it basically means travelling by foot wearing heavy packs and gear. A ruck is done at a much faster pace than regular fitness walking, almost, but not quite at jogging speed. Soldiers ruck incredibly long distances with extremely heavy gear, so rucking is not advisable for everyone. Who should ruck? Those preparing for military service, and those looking for an intense workout.
A rucksack, how “rucking” came to be known. By Ironmonger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hiking is similar to a ruck, but it is more of a civilian thing done for pleasure (and fitness!). Hiking is done outside in nature, and it’s main objective is to explore. It’s also great for fitness, as it is sustained physical activity for long periods of time. Hiking can be done for hours or days at a time, depending on experience and desire (i.e. combined with camping). Wilderness Backpacking is much like hiking and is the exploration of new places by foot. Backpacking is usually done for longer periods of time (months) and aims at using survival skills and fostering self-sufficiency in wilderness environments. Travel Backpacking is exploring cultural attractions by foot and making use of local shelter.
Each one of these can be used by the hardcore to stay fit, as well as discover new things! Who said walking has to be boring?
Suggested Walking Program and Progression
As with any exercise program, start off slow.
You will want to work your way up to 45 – 120 minutes a walk, at a brisk pace.
How do you determine pace? Use RPE, METS, and Heart Rate.
RPE Scale with METS (Metabolic Equivalents) and Heart Rate Range (Scale of 1-10).
1 – sitting still or laying down. 0.5 – 1 METS. Resting Heart rate (40 – 90 Beats Per Minute, based on average HR).
2 – slow walk, easy. 1 – 2 METS.
3 – good paced walk, normal walking speed. 3 – 4 METS.
4 – brisk walk, fast paced walk. 4 – 7 METS.
5 – slow jog, easy jog. 7 – 8 METS. 100 – 120 BPM.
6 – fast jog, 8 – 10 minute mile. 8 – 10 METS.
7 – run, 7 minute mile 10 – 14 METS
8 – run, 5 – 6 minute mile pace. 14 – 17 METS.
9 – fast run, 4 – 5 minute mile running pace, hard. 17 – 20 METS.
10 – all-out sprint or max effort, extremely hard. Can only be done for very short periods, <1 minute. 20+ METS. MAX HR. 170 – 200 BPM.
Note: this is a general guideline, and is highly subjective and individual. RPE, METS, and HR will vary from person to person based on fitness level, body mass, muscle mass, age and genetic factors. HR based on 30 years old.
See this page for more info: Heart Rate Zones, Max Heart Rate, HRR, and RPE
Sample Progression For a Total Beginner
Week 1: Walk Monday and Thursday
Monday: 15 minutes, 2 on RPE scale and (leisurely or easy pace) or 50% of your max Heart Rate.
Thursday: 20 Minutes, same as above.
Monday: 20 minutes, 2 on RPE scale.
Thursday: 25 Minutes, 2 on RPE scale.
Week 3: Add in one more day (Example: Sunday, Monday, Thursday)
Sunday: 25 Minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Monday: 30 Minutes, 2 on RPE Scale
Thursday: 35 Minutes, 2 on RPE scale
Sunday: 30 minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Monday: 35 minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Thursday: 40 minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Sunday: 45 minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Monday: 50 Minutes, 3 on RPE scale
Thursday: 50 minutes, 4 on RPE scale
Sunday: 55 minutes, 4 on RPE scale
Monday: 60 minutes, 4 on RPE scale
Thursday: 70 minutes, 4 on RPE scale
And so on and so forth.
Advancement and progression can be introduced by intensity (higher heart rate and RPE, going faster, adding weight), longer distances, or more frequency.
Note: this is an example, and some people may be able to progress faster, while others may need more time to progress. Listen to your body and take it slow.
Always begin any exercise bout with a warm-up that is:
A. General in nature to warm the whole body up
B. Specific to warm the specific muscles, joints, and tendons that will be working during that session
For walking, you will want to warm up the feet, ankles, calves, knees, upper legs, hips, and core.
You can do this by starting with a slow walk and then gradually working your way up to your training pace.
You can also add in dynamic movements such as walking lunges, bodyweight squats, walking quad stretches, walking high knees, calf raises, torso twists, side bends, and arm circles to further warm up the areas which will be stressed.
Warm-up should be done for about 5 minutes with something as light as walking, with more intense exercise requiring much longer warm-up.
It should also be noted that stretching is not warming up. Stretching is increasing muscle, joint, ligament and tendon Range Of Motion (ROM), not a way to warm and loosen muscles for activity. Warming a muscle, tendons, and ligaments involves motion and blood flow to that area, stretching doesn’t provide this. Stretch after your workout when muscles are warm and pliable to get any benefit from stretching.
Proper Walking Form, Posture, and Breathing
One foot in front of the other. Duh, right? Well walking has very little rules (save for competitive race walking) and it should come naturally for most. The best bet is to walk as it comes naturally, relaxed with natural arm movement. You may find as you go faster you may need to pump the arms, this is fine. A heel to mid-foot strike is best, with a deliberate push-off of the ball of the foot. With walking, one foot should always be on the ground and concentration should be given to every step to minimize impact. Do not slam the feet down, aim to land gently and walk quietly.
Stand tall, head above shoulders and shoulders back. Your shoulders should be over hips. Do not over-stride, as posture will deteriorate. A nice little trick I picked up (not sure where, but shout out to came up with this!) is to think of a string running through the top of your head through your body like a ventriloquists dummy, pulling you up on a sort of axis, while aiming to be 3 inches taller. Everything should be in line, and you should be actively watching your posture.
In order to get the full benefit of walking, you must concentrate on your breathing. Ideally, you would want to breath in deeply through the nose, and exhale deeply through the mouth. Getting into a rhythm is key, and it will help you breath in fresh oxygen to working muscles, and also eliminate carbon dioxide. Focusing on breathing also helps you find the meditative aspect of walking. Focus on bio-mechanics and breathing first, and everything else second.
Walking is a physical activity, so it’s best to dress for the occasion. Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is best, along with proper footwear. Proper footwear is highly subjective, with some preferring minimal cushioning, and others requiring plenty of it. Find what works best for you through trial and error. It might be best to visit a running and walking specialty shoe store and get custom fitted shoes and insoles. This is the more expensive option, but it will pay dividends down the road as properly cushioned and fitted footwear will prevent injuries, promote comfort, and last longer. Also be sure to dress for the weather, you don’t want to be freezing to death or melting into the pavement for the sake of fitness, be smart.
As with any other form of physical activity, hydration is key. Dehydration is bad all-around and will decrease performance. It’s best to just sip on water throughout the day, and never let yourself get thirsty. Bring a big water bottle or jug of water with you wherever you go. If you’re walking hard in hot weather, bring plenty of water. I won’t suggest a daily water intake or how much to drink on a walk, because only you can answer that question through experimentation. Some will need tons of water as they lose more, others will need barely any.
“You are your own experiment.”
Tip: eating lots of fruits and veggies (whole, not dried) contributes to water intake as well, so if you eat a lot of these, you may not have to add in as much water.
The Nutrition Component
Remember: diet is key to any exercise program!
No form of cardio matters if your nutrition-house is not in order.
This really means that it doesn’t matter what you do really, if your nutrition is jacked, performance will suffer.
You can’t out-walk, out-run, out-sprint, or even out-lift a bad diet.
Keep it clean and keep it lean!
What should you go for in the kitchen?
Lean meats, with some fatty meats and fish.
Plenty of water.
This is a point I really want to drive home.
Doing cardio while overeating still provides benefits, but it’s not ideal and blunts the effect.
If you’re diet needs help, clean it up and practice restraint with willpower, and make better decisions every day!
Adding it All Together and Measuring Progress
Walking can be added to any exercise program and is a great compliment to a lifting program.
You can do it on lifting days, on off days, or even every day. That’s the beauty of walking, it can be done early and often.
Measuring progress is easy, and can be done with no tech, or really high tech.
The cheapest way is to feel out your pulse yourself and do some basic math.
The most expensive way is wearable tech (FitBit etc.)
It’s your choice.
Good markers of progress for a cardiovascular program:
Heart rate. Heart rate while walking should go up (see above, determining pace) and heart rate at rest should go down as you get more fit. This means the heart is getting more efficient at pumping blood throughout the body. You can feel your pulse, get a heart rate monitor, or use wearable tech to measure this.
Blood pressure. Blood pressure should be in the optimal range, or start to trend in that direction. You can get your blood pressure checked by a doctor, go to a store that has a blood pressure monitor, or buy one for home use. Blood pressure cannot be checked any other way, or based on how you feel. The only way to check it is to measure it with the devices above. Remember: diet also plays a huge role in blood pressure, as does stress. Cleaning up your diet (limiting salt) and lowering stress levels can help normalize blood pressure.
Bodyfat %. You should lose bodyfat and start to get a more favorable body composition, but only if you’re in a calorie deficit in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise (there goes the importance of diet again). If you’re in a surplus, you will still gain weight. It’s best to track your calories with a calorie counter app.
Remember: scale weight lies, and can change based on a variety of factors. Don’t base you fitness progress off of scale weight alone. LEAN MASS and FAT MASS should be looked at as two separate things, and lean mass should go up, while fat mass should go down.
The best way to measure body composition? FFMI IMO. See: Maximum Muscle Gain For Natural Lifters and Athletes
You can go for longer distances, or you can go the same distance faster. This is a great low tech way to measure progress. All you need is a watch and a regular route. You can also get more expensive with wearable tech which can track by GPS.
More expensive measures outside of most people’s reach:
Vo2 Max. This is usually done in a lab under the supervision of a sports physiologist. Vo2 Max will be the measure of maximal oxygen consumption, the higher an athlete’s Vo2 Max, the more fit they generally are (able to use more oxygen while working, increasing work capacity). This test is unnecessary unless you have lots of dough or are an ELITE athlete.
How Many Calories Does Walking Burn?
This depends on many things, including body composition, body weight, metabolism, age, gender, as well as fitness levels and walking pace.
It’s definitely not a one size fits all answer, but you can get a more accurate picture by using a calorie calculator or using wearable tech.
A general rule of thumb is 70 – 100 calories a mile, so it’s not going to be a huge calorie burn that allows you to eat your heart out.
Walking is best combined into an overall fitness program, that is cross-training with other forms of exercise such as strength-training, running, cycling, rowing, swimming, sprints, hills, hammer and tire, battle ropes, etc.
An overall fitness program also includes a stellar diet (see above, “the nutrition component”) and this is arguably the most important part.
Also, we can’t forget to include proper rest into the equation. Not getting enough sleep and not “chilling out” and de-stressing will lead your body into a catabolic state and kill progress while heightening chance of injury. Train hard, but also make time to recover!
Just walk, baby!
Walking can be added into to any exercise program and can be used “incidentally” to get in some extra calorie torching.
Don’t think walking is just for beginners, either. Walking to fitness, health, and a shredded physique is for everyone.
So what are you waiting for? Lace ’em up and get moving!
Here’s to your health,
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Note: always consult a physician before starting or modifying an exercise program or diet.