One of the most common exercises for most fitness enthusiasts at any level is walking. Walking is a workout in itself if done smartly, but like in any other physical activity, it has to have progressions to make it harder to cover the same distance in the same amount of time and with the same effort. This is without the core movement – walking – not being replaced by a jog or a run.
Most fitness experts would agree that walking is not enough and should be integrated with other forms of fitness, but some people might just want to walk. For those who find it difficult to focus at the gym with conventional weight-lifting, trying out different walking variations might provide the right motivation and make workouts more fun to do.
The first step is to learn how to maximise the potential of the treadmill. Take advantage of preset workouts with the help of your trainer, and some treadmills also give you the option of highest and lowest intensity with minute spent on each. Use the “hill walk” option and see what the treadmill has in store for you. Even though these are standardised, you might unearth a gem of a walking formular in there. As you get more confident, use light additions, like butt kicks, slow lunges, and lateral squat walks on a very slow speed on the treadmill – this way, you have no complaints about not having a long enough corridoor/path in the gym to do your walking exercises.
Something as simple as ankle weights will also make your walk more effective: “The simplest way is to add weights via ankle weights or even a weighted vest, or by carrying two kettlebells during the walk. Carry these weighted items outdoor as well if you’re serious about your walking. Use them for a few minutes, and then enter a leisurely pace, and switch it around,” says Nivedita Samanta, a certified run and performance coach. Samanta has also run the Boston Marathon and founded FitRabbits to coach runners.
She also suggests using natural terrains to increase the intensity: “Do hill walks on natural terrain. Go up the incline as fast as you can, walk back down to the base at a more leisurely pace and repeat this 10-20 times depending on how you want to challenge yourself. I have a friend who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro holding kettlebells, and I thought it was crazy when he was training for it. So walking can be made difficult too,” she adds.
Another fantastic suggestion is not limiting your walks to just two limbs. We have four and getting down on arms and legs both opens a world of new exercises. Samanta names a few: “The sideways farmer carry, bearwalks, and duckwalks are all part of the progression.” All these also force the body to move in all planes apart from just moving forward.
Then there are holds which you can pair with your walking circuits. Planks with variations apart from just the static hold is an excellent core-building break between two sets of walking. Do a wall-sit, squat holds, and one-leg yoga poses which increase stability and balance. These things will make your walk stronger as well, and more aligned as weight starts distributing across both sides of the body.
The key is to know that walking alone might not be enough for your goals, but there are enough low intensity exercises that will make your walk stronger. The step-up is an excellent example, which can be done using a box in the gym or even on the staircase. And if you have access to a staircase, this article tells you how you can use it for multiple exercises which include muscle-building and cardio both.
Then there are downhill lunges. It is instinctive to think that going up an incline is more difficult, but going downhill is what really shreds the thighs and quads. Find a gradual decline on your walking trail and try these lunges so your walking muscles are properly worked on. Then there is terrain: walking in sand or on the beach is tougher and navigating hurdles as part of the walk can also help.
Adding arm-rotations, shoulder presses [without weights where you tense your muscles, or with water bottles in both hands], and even walking sideways and backwards works wonders. The last one is to add some competition to your walk – try and beat your personal best time on the same trail to calculate if you are getting brisker. This will motivate you to add more exercises and feel like you can do a lot more than just walk.