Most walkers know any and all activity helps when it comes to losing weight. What’s less understood — and perhaps equally as important — are the little things that can end up having a negative impact on your fitness and weight-loss goals.
To help keep you on track and losing weight, we spoke with the founder of Strength Running, Jason Fitzgerald, and nutritionist Jill Maher to learn the most common things walkers and beginner fitness enthusiasts do to sabotage their own weight-loss goals. Watch out for these common mistakes when it comes to weight loss, and you could reach your goals faster than you thought.
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s common to want to see results right away. While this can be motivating and provide instant gratification, it isn’t always the way it happens. In fact, because you’re likely building muscle while you lose fat, body weight numbers can stay steady for many weeks before you start to see a difference on the scale.
According to Fitzgerald, this is why walkers and beginner athletes often get discouraged. “Most often there is a short-term timeline attached to a long-term goal. Weight-loss happens relatively slowly and expecting to see results in just a few weeks isn’t realistic.”
For this reason, it’s important to make your goals reasonable in the beginning and look at the bigger picture when it comes to weight loss. Check the scale once per week instead of daily, and make your monthly weight-loss numbers a higher priority than weekly tallys. This will help to keep negative thoughts and emotions at bay and encourage you to stay consistent on your fitness journey.
While it’s true you’ll need to build up your tolerance to exercise and progress slowly to higher mileages, it’s also true a lot of walkers (and athletes in general) underestimate what they’re capable of. Walking, in particular, is a low-intensity activity that can be done every day by most people. By short changing yourself and taking too many days off your workout routine each week, you could be negatively impacting your weight-loss goals and your overall fitness.
“Not being consistent with exercise is a mistake, whether you’re a walker, runner or into strength training,” says Fitzgerald. “Even for beginners, you should devote 5–6 days per week to regular, consistent exercise.”
This consistency will help build the habits necessary to achieve long-term weight loss goals while also improving your fitness so you can begin to exercise longer — and in turn, eventually burn more calories.
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At first, you might see results by simply getting out the door and exercising. The problem is, at some point, your body will adapt to the activity. If you don’t add variety into your routine, you’ll likely hit a plateau — and those results you saw in the beginning will level off.
To continue working toward your weight-loss goals, you’ll need to avoid always walking at the same pace by adding some higher intensity efforts. The good news is these types of workouts are perfect for those days when you might not have a lot of time for longer workouts.
“High-intensity interval training is an effective way to burn calories and get in a difficult workout in less time,” says Fitzgerald. “If you’re a walker or runner who’s a beginner, these workouts may increase injury risk. For this reason, I recommend starting these types of workouts on the bike since there’s no impact and the risk of injury is far lower. A sample workout could be 10 repetitions of 30 seconds near a maximum effort with a 1–2 minute easy recovery.”
Once your fitness improves, you can do similar efforts during your walk by increasing your speed or even jogging for short periods of time.
Even if you are exercising for an hour a day or getting in your 10,000 daily steps, sitting around for long periods in between these bouts of exercise could be a contributing factor to you not seeing the weight-loss results you’re looking for. In fact, this study shows sedentary behavior may be a contributing factor to weight gain and obesity.
This is a notion Fitzgerald tends to agree with, and often reminds his clients to stay active throughout the day. “We should focus on our near-daily exercise habit, which will be difficult to adhere to for many beginners. But I also recommend trying to avoid being sedentary for large chunks of time throughout the day.”
If you have a timer on your watch, try to get up and walk around every hour or two, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes. This can provide you with that little extra boost when it comes to your daily steps and calorie burn while getting rid of those sedentary behaviors.
Similar to intensity, your body will eventually adapt to the terrain on which you commonly walk. If you’ve hit a point where you’re no longer losing the pounds you expect, it could be time to mix up where you’re walking. While it’s still OK to hit that favorite neighborhood route a few times per week, consider hitting an off-road trail once or twice. This will help build strength and can burn even more calories in the same amount of time.
Hill workouts are another option that will give you tremendous bang for your buck, upping your calorie burn while building strength at the same time. For beginners, Fitzgerald likes to structure hill workouts similar to intervals. “Ten repetitions of 30 seconds uphill with 1–2 minutes of recovery in between efforts should be all you need.”
Even though walking can be a great introductory exercise for beginners because of its low-impact nature and short learning curve, when it comes to losing weight, you should use all forms of exercise to achieve maximum results. For instance, walking four or five days a week combined with different forms of exercise on other days could provide your body with the variety it needs to achieve maximum results. Cross-training can also give you a mental break from doing the same activity every day, which can often lead to burnout or quitting the activity altogether.
“While we may be using walking as our main form of exercise, we should be agnostic when it comes to exercise that will help us lose weight,” says Fitzgerald. “Cycling, swimming and strength training are other modes of exercise that are helpful and will aid any athlete’s weight-loss goals.”
When it comes to consuming calories, knowing what to do and not do during exercise can be tricky. From nutritionist Jill Maher’s perspective, the general rule is to skip the sugary drinks when intensity is low.
“Unless you’re really sweating and losing a good deal of electrolytes, you’re just consuming more calories and sugar than your body needs,” explains Maher. “This offsets the benefits of the exercise. It’s more beneficial to eat a healthy snack or meal immediately following your walk or workout.”
The exception to this is when you might be forced to exercise in extreme temperatures, like those Maher sees in Arizona’s summers. But even then, she recommends avoiding options that are high in calories. “In this case, you can just find electrolyte replacements without all the added calories and sugar that are typically found in sports drinks.”
Like consuming calories during exercise, overeating post-exercise can be a problem with walkers that can cancel all of the benefits of the workout. “Sometimes, people use exercise as an excuse or justification to eat more or choose unhealthy foods,” says Maher. “If you’re trying to lose weight, you must adjust your diet and calorie intake.”
Admittedly, this is one of the more difficult challenges you’ll face while trying to lose weight. “You’ll inevitably have an increased appetite when you add more activity to your routine,” says Maher. “That’s where tracking your food, making sure you’re eating enough and eating a balance of macronutrients comes into play. If you’re eating out of balance (not enough carbs or protein, for instance), you’ll likely feel hungry and eventually overeat. The key to steady weight loss is not eliminating any food groups.”
One of the biggest mistakes walkers make is guesstimating calorie consumption. While you might think you’re on track, in reality it’s common to overeat and miss out on the nutrients your body needs to sustain increased activity levels day after day.
“The only way to track calories and macronutrients is to log your food,” explains Maher. “The easiest way to do this is on your own, using a program like MyFitnessPal. Estimating how much you’re eating does not work. My clients who consistently track and measure their food are much more successful at losing weight than the clients who ‘wing it’.”
While you’ll have to be diligent and consistent when utilizing a food log, knowing exactly what you’re consuming and how many calories you’re taking in is one of the most important steps you can take on your weight loss journey, and one that will go a long way toward helping you achieve the results you’re looking for.
Once you’ve got your food log, the second step you’ll need to take is calculating and keeping track of how many calories you’re burning during your walks. This will help to ensure you’re creating a deficit, burning more calories than you’re taking in — a key component to any weight-loss program.
“Fitness trackers are useful in giving you an idea of how active you really are,” says Maher. “Similarly to food logging, it’s nearly impossible to know for certain how much you are moving throughout the day unless you are consistently tracking what you’re doing. Wearing these devices can also help encourage you to get up and move your body more often.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
While a consistent walking program provides countless benefits for a generally healthy lifestyle, things get slightly more complicated when trying to use it as a weight-loss tool. Follow these guidelines to avoid unnecessary setbacks, challenges and disappointment, and you’ll be on the way to success in no time.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.