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8 Ways to Step Up Your Walking Workouts

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Walking is a great form of exercise, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned athlete. It’s cheap. It’s accessible. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. And it’s something that nearly everyone can do.

Walking is a big part of my own fitness program. In addition to higher-intensity workouts that include running and Spinning, I get out and walk about 4 times per week to shake things up and get a little active recovery. Bonus: In addition to elevating your heart rate and increasing circulation, walking at a brisk pace can burn up to 300 calories per hour!

When you’re new to fitness, walking is a great way to start. But as you get fitter, can you still make walking work for you without turning into a runner? You bet! Here are some of my top recommendations to step-up the intensity of your walks.

1. Add (the right kind of) weight. While SparkPeople doesn’t recommend holding weights in your hands, wearing wrist weights or strapping on ankle weights in order to burn more calories or up your intensity, you can safely add weight to your walks by wearing a weighted vest. Unlike weights held at (or strapped to) your extremities, which can alter your normal movement patterns and gait, thereby increasing your risk of injury, a weighted vest centers the weight on your body so you can increase the intensity safely. Most weighted vests are adjustable, meaning you can start with less weight and slowly add more as you become accustomed to it. They’ll vary in price, but comfort and close-fit to your body are a must. We loved testing this 10-pound vest sent to us by Hyper Wear (retail $169.99), but you can find more economical options online and at sporting goods stores. Hint: Always try them on for comfort and fit; a good weighted vest should be snug, adjustable and keep the weight close to your body.

2. Add incline. If you walk outdoors, take to the hills. If you use a treadmill, it’s time to ramp up the incline. When walking on flat surfaces begins to feel easier, you can keep challenging yourself by playing up the incline. Even walking at the same pace, you’ll burn more calories. Walking uphill also helps strengthen your bones better than walking on flat surfaces does. I have a love-hate relationship with the hills of Cincinnati. They’re everywhere—and they’re steep. As much as they tire me out whether I’m running or walking, I also know that they’re helping me get fitter. With hill walking, be sure to do your share of downhill walking, too, to help balance out and strengthen your muscles. Just remember: What goes up must come down. No hills around? Take the stairs!

3. Add speed. This is one of the simplest things you can do boost the benefits of your walks, but be sure to do it carefully. To add speed, try to avoid taking longer or larger steps. Instead, take your normal-sized steps or slightly smaller steps and focus on a quicker turnover. Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your shoulders relaxed as you pump your arms for additional momentum and balance, keeping your arms close to your body. Another great thing about walking faster (besides greater calorie burn) is that you’ll cover more distance in less time—a great technique for busy days.

4. Add intervals. Interval training, where you alternate higher and lower intensities throughout your workout, yields better fitness improvements and higher calorie burn than continuous or “steady-state” training alone. It can also help you improve your speed and amp up your walking intensity gradually. You can do intervals based on speed or incline (anything that gets you working harder)—even running! Then, you follow up with a lower-intensity recovery pace and repeat as many intervals as you’d like during your workout session. To learn more about interval training, read this article. Want to see some examples? Check out these interval workouts for walkers designed by Coach Jen.

5. Add volume. I’m all for music-free workouts that allow you to focus on your form, your body, or even the scenery. But many research studies have shown that listening to music gives exercisers a competitive edge that helps them go harder and longer before feeling fatigue. When you start increasing the intensity of your walks, consider adding a soundtrack to your workouts to you’re your body press a little harder or further.

6. Add poles. Nordic walking, which uses poles and can be done in any climate, is a great way to add more muscle power and intensity to your program. According to the Cooper Institute, Nordic walking burns 20% more calories than walking alone (sans poles). What’s more, Nordic walkers don’t perceive the intensity of their walks as harder, even though their heart rates are higher and they’re using more muscle fibers. Sounds like a win-win to me!

7. Subtract the treadmill. Treadmills are great when the weather is bad, you don’t live in a safe area, or you can’t get out of the house on certain days. But treadmills definitely make your walking workouts easier than they would be outdoors. If you’re ready to take your walks to the next level, hop off the treadmill and get walking on the ground—even if it’s indoors, like at a mall. You’ll use more muscle power (treadmills actually propel you forward), burn more calories—and really notice the difference! Learn more about how treadmills can cheat you out of a good workout here.

8. Subtract fancy "toning" shoes. They may claim to activate more muscles, burn more calories, and target your buns and thighs, but a recent independent study spearheaded by the American Council on Exercise found that these expensive products don't live up to their claims. Save your dollars and get better results than any get-fit-fast shoe can promise by incorporating the advice above.

No matter what your fitness level, walking makes for great exercise that can grow with you! Be sure to check out SparkPeople’s comprehensive Walking Guide for more tips, workouts and get-fit strategies!

Is walking part of your fitness routine? What’s your favorite way to add intensity to your walks?

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I really like my toning shoes, not because I think they tone my legs, but because I REALLY think they help alot with my shin splints and plantar fasciitis! and they're super comfortable. Report
I think those toning shoes do more harm than good. I bought a pair of Shape-ups and injured my knee after just wearing them for a couple of days. I've had to have an MRI and go through countless sessions of physical therapy since due to inflammation I believe was caused by the shoes. Report
I been walking about everyday since april. I love walking outdoors. i walk 3 miles. Report
You didn't say anything about the shoes to wear Report
I like all the info on walking, and breaking up your routine. Walking became at least a 4-5 day a week routine for me a year ago this past June. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with mild to severe osteoarthritis in my knees. And I have RA, so I have toned down my walking, and now use a treadmill at home. The only logical place for me to walk, is along the shoulder of the asphalt main road that I live along. It is not the safest place to walk, so with uncertain knees I have stopped walking outside. Besides I do not really feel safe listening to music while walking outside, because you never know what might come up behind you. So, I concentrate on at least getting some physical activity every day, as opposed to doing as much as I used to do. Report
Thanks for the great tips, Nicole! I walk on the treadmill at least once a week, doing speed intervals, which vary in both speed and incline, and I find it a great challenge. The only thing I don't do is walk outside, for some reason I don't enjoy it, and I definitely don't push myself as hard as when I'm on the treadmill, it's just not for me. Thanks for a great blog! Report
Thanks for the supportive reminder. I've done "all of the above" suggested, except for using music to ramp up my walk. I have a hard time finding something I really like that gets me going.

Last time I did that (long ago), I was driving instead of walking and absentmindedly backended a driver who stopped to turn. The music was great, but the end results.... well, I don't recommend it while driving! : ) Report
I bookmarked this blog to read it carefully later. Thanks! Report
Great! I love walking! Report
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!
I needed to read this so bad!!
Love the idea about the vest. Report
Great article, Thanks Report
Also, there are some Great "Walk at home" dvds! I love Lesley Sansone's, but there are quite a few on the market! I was saving these for the winter months when I couldn't get outside & walk, but now that it's so hot, I go in my basement, where it's cool & put one of these on! Report
thanks for the great advice! Report
I get my walking exercise in by going Geocaching with the family. There is always just one more cache that's just a little bit further. The kids love finding the "treasures" in the park or where ever we happen to go that day. We've found all kids of interesting places through geocaching. Report
...and if you are lucky, you live close to the beach and can walk in the sand. Definitely adds intensity. One can choose level of intensity by walking either on the wet sand or the dry sand. Report
Great article, the nordic poles seem like a silly idea, but the facts behind them make them very appealing! Perhaps if I could use them on trail walks on the weekends. Report
Thanks for a great article. I walk 4 - 5 times a week, mostly with Leslie Sansone DVD's, as I have arthritis in my knee and can no longer do high intensity workouts. Report
Walking is part of my routine,I walk indoors with Leslie's DVD during the hot and humid summer.
Thank you for a great and informative article. Report
I wear Skechers Shape UPs and they DO increase my heart rate when I walk, more than my New Balance sneakers did. ANd they are so comfy and cushioned that they lessen the impact of my steps and are easier on my constant back pain.
I do all of the things listed, except walk outdoors. My back pain does not allow me to walk anywhere where I do not have a chance to sit and rest my bck when it gets unbearable. Holding on to the treadmill allows me to walk for longer periods of time. Report
Thanks great article Report
My hubby and I walk on the abandoned golf course behind our hourse and it has lots of hills. We make it a competition to see who can get up them the fastest. He always wins because I'm not a good runner and I'm not fast at all but I still run up them and try because maybe one day I'll beat him. We have fun doing this and it's sooo much better cardio than just walking up the hills. Report
Thanks for the great solutions to the walking dilemma. As I get fitter, I want more and I now have ways to get it!
Thanks for the great solutions to the walking dilemma. As I get fitter, I want more and I now have ways to get it!
I love walking. I walk everywhere. Usually, if I want to add intensity, I pick up the pace. However, recently, I've been thinking about buying a set of Nordic Walking Poles. I have a couple of friends who rave about how great Nordic Walking is. So, I thought I might give it a try.

I take a lot of walks throughout the day with my baby, and I also usually walk to and from the gym (a mile away). Report
Thanks for the great article. I have recently started my walking routine. To keep myself motivated, I use a different path everyday; and listen to a different kind of music on my IPod. I try to keep the music upbeat as I find as the beat quickens so does my pace! Going to keep this blog in my favorites. Report
Good tips, thank you Report
I love to walk, especially outside. My daily walks range between 3 and 5 miles depending on how much time I have. A few year back, I bought some Nordic Poles, but I haven't used them in...forever. I think I'll add them just to mix things up. Report
I'm at the stage where I want to increase my intensity. Thought the treadmill was a good option but will put it more into perspective now. Still use when it's too hot or cold. I too would rather hear surrounding sights and sounds. Report
Good to know especially #8. Was considering purchasing the shoes, glad I didn't Report
will keep this as a fav article so I can go back and read it again thanks Report
I will run for a while or increase my speed to vary the intensity of my walks. Report
i like the idea of adding weights while walking... Report
I love walking. To add intensity I remake my ipod playlist with very fast paced music to keep me motivated to burn up that pavement. Once I have my license I will venture out to newer walking routes for now I stick to my safest one and just increase my distance and time out walking. Report
Never knew that about the toning shoes. Also, the cheating that the treadmill does. Report
Thanks for the info about the toning shoes. Report
Thanks for sharing very informational! Report
Great blog post, Nicole. Thanks for sharing. I always "forget" how effective walking is. Report
Walking is my primary form of exercise, and I use several of these methods to continue to see results with my weight loss/health gain! Report
Thanks for the informative article. I love outdoor walking and hiking and do it whenever I can. Too bad it's so nasty hot and humid in summer where I live. I'll definitely be out and about once we start getting more fall-type weather. Report
Walking is part of my fitness routine. At work during my breaks I try to add speed to increase the distance walked in the same amount of allowable time. So far I have exceeded my prior distance recorded. Report
Definitely! I work at a computer all day and for me it is my stress relief and fresh air break. I try to walk up rams and downhills as well as flat surfaces. It is also my warm-up. Report
I added the trekking poles a while back and it's great. I've recently added a backpack full of old text books for weight. Good prep for fall backing trips anyway and a bonus workout addition! Report
My favorite is to take the 5-minute drive to the state park nearby and walk trails there. Some flat prairie, some wooded hills, some steep inclines/declines to the waterfalls. Mixes it up nicely. Report
I park in a garage that's 1/4 mile away from my apartment, so I'm pretty much guaranteed a 1/2 mile walk every day! Unfortunately, I'm usually wearing heels to work, which hinders my ability to turn this into a workout, but I will try some of these tips!

While I've never tried those sneakers that claim to help you burn more calories, I have tried FitFlops. I honestly don't know if I get any kind of fitness benefit from them, but I will say that they do provide a great deal of support. I can walk around in them for miles and my feet never feel uncomfortable the way that they would if I had been wearing regular flip flops. Report
Our house it situated so that no matter which direction I take in our neighborhood, I am going to encounter hills - and I mean some seriously big hills. :) This used to keep me from walking - my "excuse". Not anymore. Those hills used to be my demons. Now, I've overcome them. I can walk to the top without stopping now, and without being too winded. I walk every morning w/ our german shepherd Zoey (and most days, with our two older children) before work. I mix things up with jogging - really pushing myself, and throw in some music on my ipod. I LOVE my morning walks. 6 months ago, I would have told you that you were insane to think that I would like to walk / jog. Now, I LOVE IT! :) Report
Good stuff! Report
Great article! I do a lot of these things already, but I think I might try the weighted vest. Does anyone have any recommendation for a vest that is less pricey? Report
Good article. Report
Walking Guide