When most people think of starting an exercise program there are certain images that tend to come to mind – hard work under a barbell or on a weight machine, dripping sweat going all out on a stationary bike or on a long run. These are all great things to aspire to in a fitness program. The thing is, they all share a common trait. They’re all intense.
When people think of getting fit they almost always fixate directly on the intense side. It’s understandable, that stuff just feels like exercise. It immediately gives you the physical feeling of having accomplished something. The problem is, this fixation often causes people to completely ignore the relaxed options in a fitness program like walking.
And you really should be walking.
Why Walking Is So Important
Okay, quick caveat for the people who will want to get technical: Can you get fit without including any walking in your routine? Yes. Can you get fit by only walking? Also yes.
I wasn’t being hyperbolic in the title, I do think walking is crucial for most people looking to get in shape, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get there without it. I also don’t want to make it sound like walking is all you need – all the quantified-self gadgets like FitBits have convinced a lot of people walking a certain number of steps is the magical key to getting healthy and fit and it doesn’t quite work that way.
Like so many things it’s best to stay somewhere around the middle. Walking has so many benefits, especially for your average person who’s looking to lose some fat and hopefully get a little stronger without having to spend hours in the gym everyday, that it’s a huge detriment to leave it out.
Why do I consider walking such an important addition?
The main reason is that it makes for a solid calorie burning option that doesn’t ever grind you down. Everyone’s different but an extra mile walked in a day burns around 100 calories. That adds up to an extra 700 calories burned every week, which adds up to the 3500 calories needed to shed a pound of fat about every five weeks.
At a pound lost every five weeks you would be down ten pounds in a year. That may not be an incredible amount, but it’s substantial enough when you consider a one mile walk will probably take you less than thirty minutes.
You don’t have to stop at one mile though, because walking adds very little to training stress and won’t leave you feeling completely beat like heavy lifting, sprints, or a longer run can. This is especially important for two groups – people just starting out and people who are at higher levels and are pushing the limits of their training.
If you’re in the first group, chances are your recovery sucks. All the time I see people trying to dive into the hardest exercise program they can find and then learning the hard way that when you have a stressful job, kids,
shitty eating habits, and routinely get by on five hours of sleep a night you can’t take on something that intense without crashing. The other group tend to understand good recovery practices, but are pushing their training so hard they can’t do anything else to optimize their recovery. Walking provides both a way to burn additional calories without destroying themselves.
The low impact nature of walking also makes it great for people who are starting out severely overweight, or with an injury or other medical concerns that make it dangerous or ill-advised to engage in higher intensity activities.
Since you’re down in a lower cardio zone you’re also putting your body in an aerobic state where it will tend to use stored fat for fuel rather than drawing energy from your glycogen and glucose stores. If your goal is to be losing as much fat as possible then keeping your body in a state predisposed to burning fat as fuel is going to help.
On top of these benefits, relaxed continuous movement like walking is one of the best ways to build up your bodies vascular system – arteries, blood vessels, etc.
Building up your vascular system this way benefits all your other training making your heavy lifting and your higher intensity cardio more effective by providing better internal structure. It’s also a great stress reliever, which for some will be as big a benefit as everything else.
How to Program In Walking
Unlike other things, there really aren’t many things to consider when programming walking in to your fitness routine. Since it’s not a big stressor you can use it as a warm up or cool down around your lifting or more intense cardio. I also often recommend just adding in an evening walk of a couple miles if it won’t interfere with your schedule as a way of ensuring at least a minimum amount of daily activity.
If you’re unable to do a more varied exercise program you can always just start with daily walks as well. A past client was unable to lift or run due to an injury and he managed to lose over fifty pounds without doing any exercise other than walking.
A key thing to remember though is that walking won’t make up for a poor diet. Really, no amount of exercise is going to make up for taking in way too many calories. You need both sides of the equation to make things work well. This is part of why I think things like the FitBits wind up being so misleading – people think they can walk their 10k steps and then eat an entire pizza for dinner and still lose weight. That’s not likely to work.
Whether you’re just starting out, or have been training for a long time, the list of reason’s you need to be including walking in your training is extensive. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring one of the most powerful tools you’ve got available to you in your efforts to get in shape.
Have any other suggestions for people who are trying to include more walking in the fitness programming, or even a success story of your own built around getting out there and walking more? Leave a comment and tell us about it!