A walking workout seems simple enough: Lace up your shoes, and put one foot in front of the other — easy.
While it can be that simple, achieving specific goals like losing weight, taming stress, training for a 10K or toning muscle require a more specialized approach to your walking workout. Here are some ways to tailor your training depending on which goals you’re hoping to achieve.
TO LOSE WEIGHT
Walking might even be better for weight loss than more vigorous activities like running, according to research published in the journal Risk Analysis. The study found that those who went for a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes five times a week had lower body mass indexes and smaller waists than those who participated in other fitness activities.
If your goal is to slim down, Malin Svensson, a Los Angeles-based walking expert and founder of Nordic Body, recommends walking a shorter distance at higher intensity. “Increasing the intensity burns more calories,” she says.
To torch additional calories, Svensson suggests incorporating intervals into your walk by walking as fast as possible for 60 seconds and returning to a normal pace for 30 seconds. Do this 20 times to make up the entire 30-minute walk.
TO TAME STRESS
When it comes to stress busters, nothing beats a long, leisurely stroll.
Start destressing with a warmup: Slow, gentle stretching not only helps avoid injuries, says Dr. James Rippe, a cardiologist and author of “The Complete Book of Fitness Walking.” “It’s a good time to get in tune with the fact that you’re about to do something good for your body and mind,” he says.
Aim for a pace of 3–4 miles per hour (15–20-minute miles) for at least 60 minutes. Instead of zoning out on the treadmill, get outside. In 2015 research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that a 90-minute walk in nature had lower levels of repetitive negative thoughts.
At the end of the walk, Rippe suggests closing your eyes and asking, “How do I feel?” as a means of appreciating the impact of movement on mood.
TO TRAIN FOR A 10K
It should come as no surprise that training for a 10K requires a workout that prioritizes distance over speed.
For beginners, training for a 10K will take at least eight weeks. Start slow. The goal is to finish the course, not break a speed record. “Walk at a pace you enjoy,” advises Rippe.
Plan to walk at least five days per week. The amount of time you walk — and the distance you cover — will increase each week. Aim for 15 minutes the first week, adding five minutes per week on four walks. During the fifth weekly walk, aim to double your walking time. For example: On week three, go for four 25-minute walks and one 50-minute walk. In the week leading up to the race, plan one 10K walk as a final training walk.
“You get multiple benefits simultaneously: aerobic benefits, bone building benefits and psychological benefits,” Rippe says about long walks.
TO TONE MUSCLE
No amount of walking will give you rock-hard abs or chiseled biceps, but heading for the hills (instead of walking on flat ground) forces your legs, glutes and core to work harder. “Walking can help you build muscular endurance,” says Svensson.
The steeper the grade, the more muscle activation required, according to research published in the journal Gait and Posture. The research also found that faster walking speeds on uphill grades require the most thigh muscle activation.
Set the incline on the treadmill or find a hilly route for a walking workout that tones your muscles. Svensson also recommends walking with poles. “It increases your muscular endurance by engaging your upper body,” she explains. Research agrees. A study published in PLOS One found significant increases in muscle involvement among Nordic walkers.
The next time you head out for a walk, think about your goals and tailor your standard stroll to improve your walking results.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT HIKE