Article By Ross Harrison
Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise today, especially for people just beginning to workout. Walking has many positive features, such as being inexpensive, easy to perform, able to be done almost anywhere, and the only equipment you really need is a decent pair of shoes. Of course walking also has health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health, lower body muscular endurance, fat loss, and more. However, most people don’t get the maximum benefits from their walking routine, so I wanted to provide some tips to help you improve your results.
Probably the most common experience people have with walking involves having some initial positive results, such as increases in energy level or fat loss, followed by an eventual stop in further progress. This lack of progress is not the result of exercising less and it will happen even if you perform the same workouts that gave you positive results in the first place. It may seem as though keeping up with your walking routine should be enough to cause additional improvements, but unfortunately that is not quite how the body works.
If you continue with the same walking routine, eventually you will become acclimated to the exercise and it will no longer be challenging for your body. When this happens, your walking routine will maintain your previous gains, but it will not stimulate further progress. At this point, it is common for people to do one of three things: increase the amount they walk, continue with the same routine and hope for more progress later, or decrease walking because it is not providing additional benefits and does not seem worth the time or effort anymore.
The first option of increasing the amount you walk is the only one of the three that will result in further progress, but there are even better options available. Increasing the amount you walk can help can make your routine more challenging and should cause some positive results, but it often takes large increases in walking to cause any significant improvements in your body. Walking more may challenge your endurance, but the exercise stimulus itself is really no different, so your body will not be forced to adapt and improve.
Another problem with increasing the amount you walk is that it takes more and more time and if you have a busy schedule it may not even be possible to devote a significant amount of extra time to exercise. Really, there isn’t much reason to do so anyway, unless your goal is to walk long distances and complete marathons or similar events. Otherwise, you can get even better results in the same amount of time or less, by using different strategies.
The key to continued progress is to make sure your body is at least somewhat challenged by your workouts. Increasing the distance you walk is one way to increase the challenge, but it is not the only way and it is certainly not the most efficient way. Instead of focusing on the distance or length of time you walk, it is more effective to focus on other variables, such as your walking speed.
Speed is perhaps the easiest variable to manipulate, because you don’t have to change anything other than how fast you walk. One way you can increase the difficulty of your walking routine is simply to walk you usual route, but focus on decreasing the time you take to complete the walk. Your goal should not necessarily be to go all out, but rather to maintain a challenging, yet maintainable pace. When you use this approach you should keep track of your times so you can chart your progress over time.
Another way to manipulate speed during a walk is by using interval training which involves switching back and forth between different speeds. For example, you could walk at your regular pace for two minutes and then walk significantly faster for 30 seconds or a minute. Then you would go back to your regular pace and repeat the process until your walk is completed. This method is a little more complicated, since you need a watch or other timing device to keep track of when you should switch speeds.
In addition to changing the speed of your walk, you can and should change the route or terrain of your walk as well. One of the biggest mistakes people make when on a walking routine is to get in the habit of performing the same walk every day. Doing the same workout all the time, whether it is walking or any other activity, will cause stop in your progress faster than almost anything. The more similar your walks, the less your body will have to adapt, and the less progress you will make.
If you walk around your neighborhood, then try taking some different streets or go in a different direction than usual. Also, if you normally walk mostly flat routes, then try walking in areas with more hills. You can even use the same approach if you walk on a treadmill by changing the incline of your machine during your walks. You can be as creative as you want by incorporating other changes, such as backwards walking, side stepping, adding weights, etc. Just be sure to always put your safety first and don’t do anything that will put you at risk for injury.
These are just a few examples of changes you can make to your walking routine, but you can change anything you want. The most important thing is that your workouts are not all similar. To keep things simple, you can start by not repeating the identical workout twice in a row. If you have a regular walking route, you don’t have to get rid of it completely, but don’t do it every day. Try to incorporate at least one different and ideally more challenging walk between your regular comfortable walks.
The more variety and challenge (up to a point) there is in your walking routine, the more stimulus there will be for your body to adapt, and the more consistent progress you will make. On the other hand, try not to go overboard by walking too much too soon or doing walks that are too difficult, because this will only cause your body to become run down and increase your changes of you experiencing pain or injury.
Your goal should be to find the middle ground where your overall routine is fairly challenging, yet you can still recover from your day-to-day walks. You should also feel better overall as your fitness level improves. Finally, it is very important to include stretching in your walking routine, especially at the end of your walks. Stretching helps your muscles feel better and improves your recovery, which minimizes the occasional aches and stiffness that can accompany a challenging walking routine.
Ross Harrison, CSCS, NSCA-CPT is a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, nutritional consultant, and has a BA in psychology from Grinnell College. He takes a holistic approach to health and fitness and teaches people how to lose weight, get in shape, and improve their quality of life with exercise and nutrition. If you want to find out more about his services or contact him for any reason, please visit http://precisionhealth-fitness.com/.
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