Living in New York City, I walk just about everywhere. And that means I have no excuse for not exercising. … Because every time I put one foot in front of the other, I have a way to get my heart rate up and build some muscle.
I’ll bet you like walking too, right? Walking is the main workout of many of our customers. So I’ve been looking for ways to, well, step it up. In other words, ways to turn every walk into a dynamite workout.
Here are a few ideas I’ve gathered.
#1. Pick up the pace. I’ll talk more about varying intensity later, but for now, let’s talk about how fast you’re walking.
My guess is it’s probably at a pace of about 3 mph on a flat surface. I want you to pump that up a notch. Aim for more like 4.5 mph. A good test to see if you’re working hard enough: Can you belt out your favorite show tune? If your answer is yes, you’re not working hard enough.
Make sure your posture is proper as well. Think of the crown of your head reaching toward the ceiling. Your shoulders should be back and down, your arms bent naturally at the elbow. To pick up speed, don’t take bigger steps. Instead, concentrate on driving your elbows back faster, and your feet will naturally follow.
#2. Change your direction. Yes, you’ve learned to walk facing forward. But how about trying a side step, side shuffle, or side cross-over grapevine step?
If you’ve never heard of a cross-over grapevine step, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either, but my wife tells me it’s something they used to do in ’80s aerobics classes. And it’s a great way to engage different muscles in the calves, thighs and abdomen.
To do it, you basically take a step to the side with your right leg, then cross your left leg behind it. Then step to the side again with your right leg, then cross your left leg in front of it.
Adding these multidirectional movements will work your inner and outer thighs, not to mention improve balance and coordination, and help strengthen your core. Just remember to do an equal amount of the right side leading as you do the left to keep everything in balance.
#3. Focus on your feet. Try walking across the room without concentrating on your feet. Then try it again, this time really paying attention to where your feet are moving on the floor. Notice the difference in how your lower body is controlled?
So whenever you’re walking, pay attention to how your feet move. Land gently on your heel, toes flexed to the sky, then roll through your foot, using your big toe to give you forward momentum. By focusing on your feet, you’ll naturally engage the butt, glutes and core muscles.
Focusing also helps you quiet the mind — almost like a moving meditation — and you’ll truly be able to experience the moment. So not only will your body get a workout, your mind will get a rest as well.
#4. Shift your strategy. Every walk doesn’t have to be all walk. Throw in some other moves to work different parts of the body. When you get to a curb, step left foot up, then right foot up, then left foot down, right foot down. Do that for 10 reps, then start with the right foot up for another 10 reps. Find a park bench and do 10 push ups against the seat back, then 10 triceps dips using the seat.
#5. Add some intervals. In addition to picking speed at a steady pace as I mentioned earlier, intervals can really add a punch to your workout as well.
I’ve talked about high-intensity interval training before. It’s when you alternate short bursts of intense exertion with short periods of recovery. In other words, you go as hard as you can for a short time, and then at an easy pace for a bit, alternating intense bursts with recovery bursts.
One of the great things about HIIT is that it saves time. Just 6 HIIT workouts performed over 2 or 3 weeks, each lasting just a few minutes, produced measurable improvements in key markers of cardiovascular health, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.1
Alternate between walking 3 or 4 blocks at a very brisk pace and 1 block at a moderate pace for a total of 4 to 8 times.
At the end of your walk, consider taking a few minutes to stretch. While the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) indicates that stretching isn’t a requirement before exercise, they do recommend including stretching as part of your exercise regimen at least twice a week. This helps to maintain a healthy balance in body mechanics, improve your posture and range of motion, release tension, and keep you flexible and moving well as you age.2
I’d tell you more … but I’m going out for a walk!
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, Jurancich M. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(1):138-145. PMID: 22201691.
2. Garber C, Blissmer B, Deschenes M. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: Guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exer. 2011;43(7):1334-1359. PMID:21694556