If exercise is a magic pill that cures and prevents many different kinds of disease, walking is as research tested and proven effective as Tylenol…
The act of placing one foot in front of the other is a miraculous set of events. Millions of your body’s cells communicate along your neural pathways to coordinate movement and maintain balance to move you unconsciously through space. Walk for more than a few minutes, and further adaptations take place as your heart rate rises and muscles pull carbohydrates and fat from storage sources for fuel.
Walking is a tool that benefits us. Not only is it an effective mode of transporting ourselves, walking regularly for the purpose of becoming fit also provides its share of health benefits — if done properly.
The Walking Misconception
Walking is a great way to start an exercise program. The key word here is “start.” If you have been a couch potato or a chair pear, then walking is literally (and figuratively) the best first step that you can take towards fitness. In other words, if you have been sedentary for more than a few weeks, then a 20 minute leisurely daily walk will likely offer you a lot of benefit.
If you are sick or recovering from a physical ailment, then a leisurely walk is a great idea.
But you must understand, that you will not become fit or lose weight with a leisurely walk.
After the first few walking session, you will likely feel a lot better mentally and physicially. Perhaps, you may even drop a few pounds! But after two weeks or so of strolls around the block, your body adapts and the health benefit stalls. Your body wants to be pushed.
It’s like building the foundation of a house. Being able to walk at a leisurely pace for 20 minutes is a great foundation for fitness. Similar to a house, walking is only that foundation that must be built upon for you to meet your maximum potential. How many times have you been to someone’s “grand and complete” house to only find a foundation? Once that foundation is stable (being able to walk comfortably for 20 minutes), you have to frame the house, build walls and a roof.
Walk This Way!
If you can leisurely walk for 20 minutes without a problem, I urge you to take your walking workout to the next level. You clearly have a desire to be fit and improve your health, and leisurely walking is a good start, but you will just be walking in circles around the yellow brick road of fitness…
To walk the right way, you have to walk briskly. You have to walk fast. You have to walk as if you are just late for a promotion meeting with your boss who respects you for your punctuality. You have to walk like it’s Black Friday and you stood in line all night to get one of two heavily discounted televisions. You have to walk like a kid getting out of school who is not allowed to run through the hallways. You have to walk fast…
Similar to other ways of increasing your workout intensity, you have to walk faster gradually. You can’t walk leisurely for 20 minutes, and then expect to be able to sustain a walk at the fastest pace possible for the same amount of time. You have to ease into it. And here, the answer is in interval training.
Interval training is undoubtedly one of the best ways to get fit and improve your aerobic endurance. If you follow Exercise Menu, you will appreciate that I am one of the biggest fans of interval training for all levels of fitness. And interval walking should be included in every walkers workout diet.
Interval walking involves alternating between walking speeds every few seconds or minutes. If you are just starting to increase your walking pace, then alternating your speeds every few seconds is probably best. If you have been walking at a faster pace for some time, then walking fast for a few minutes followed by a few seconds of rest is likely the best approach.
Interval walking is effective in improving fitness because your body feels a certain physical stress is placed upon it, which forces adaptation. When it comes to alternating speeds in intervals, research has not quite put a finger on why interval training is effective, but my guess is that you will push yourself harder during those fast walk periods if you know that there is some time to rest. In addition, when you push your intensity outside of your comfort zone, your body is forced to maximize its efficient delivery of energy to keep you walking fast. When your body has to operate at this level, it tends to use fat as energy. Fast walking also causes the body to somewhat think that its running, which can lower heart-related health conditions as much as running!
Now is the time to advance your walking workout to make sure you are benefiting from it…
Example Walking Interval
Here is an example walking interval 20-minute workout:
Warm up walking pace for 1 minute
- Walk fast for 10 seconds
- Walk slow for 20 seconds
- Repeat this alternating walking pattern for a total of 20 minutes!
Enjoy the benefits of your new way to walk!