I hate to admit this, but I used to be one of those people at the gym who would see someone walking on a treadmill or the track and instantly think, “Why would they waist their time doing that???” I, like so many others was of the mindset of, if it’s not brutally hard, why bother?
When I started learning how cardiovascular training actually works, I realized that walking is one of best forms of cardio exercise as well as the most overlooked. And the best part???? It’s free!
You’re probably saying to yourself right now:
“But my heart rate won’t be high enough. I need to feel like I got my butt kicked.”
“It won’t make me sweat so that must mean it’s not doing anything.”
“Walking is for old people.”
The fact is, walking is NOT a waste of time. There’s this misconception that doing high intensity bootcamp workouts are the ultimate way to get in good shape. The fact of the matter is, you should only be doing those workouts, 1-2x a week max (and only if your body has the prerequisites for it, which many of us do not).
So let’s take a look at some of my favorite benefits of walking that just might surprise you.
WALKING TO IMPROVE HEART HEALTH
When most people think of cardio, everyone immediately starts to envision huffing and puffing on a spin bike, elliptical, or even running. However, most people I come across don’t have the heart health required to get the most out of these modalities.
Let me explain…
The heart is just like any other muscle in the body. It has to be trained in a specific systematic order, for it to progress the right way. If it was your first time ever in the gym, you wouldn’t grab the heaviest weight and start doing curls or bench press, right? No, of course not. You’d slowly work your way up, building the capacity of the tissues that you’re training, otherwise injuries would set in.
The heart is the same way and walking allows you to strengthen it by increasing it’s size, thus reducing the amount of work it must to do in order to pump blood throughout the body. The larger and more efficient your heart pumps, the better cardiovascular system you possess (aka, better aerobic capacity).
So how do you know where your heart health is at? If your resting heart rate, (how many times your heart pumps per minute while resting), isn’t below 70, then you definitely don’t need to start doing high intensity exercise like spin classes, boot camps, or running. Instead, train your heart with walking by slowly increasing your pace and distance until your resting heart rate drops to below 70, and then you can progress to an elliptical, cycling, or whatever cardio you prefer.
WALKING TO GET BACK INTO FITNESS
If it’s been a while since you’ve been getting after your workouts, whether because of injuries or life just got in the way, then walking is the easiest and safest way to get back into fitness.
People usually try to pick up where they left off in terms of exercise, but the body will not respond well to this. Most likely you’ll do way too much, too soon and get put on the injury sidelines.
The beauty of walking is that it’s low impact and has very few prerequisites, meaning just about every human being walking the face of the earth can do it. I like to think of it as the lowest hanging fruit to get total body movement in without putting too much stress on the body and heart. Begin with 15-20 minutes a day at a nice leisurely pace and start building a solid foundation to get back on your fitness journey.
WALKING TO ASSIST IN WEIGHT LOSS
Do you want to know one of the biggest weight loss secrets? It’s walking! To understand this, let’s take a quick dive into exercise physiology.
Your body predominantly uses either fat or carbohydrates for energy. The more vigorous the exercise, the higher percentage of carbohydrates are used as the energy source. The lower the intensity is, the more that fat is used.
Since walking is low intensity, it use almost pure fat as the energy source, where those heavy duty bootcamp classes use almost all carbs.
Therefore, by adding more walking to your routine, you allow the body to tap into those fat reserves we all have, thus helping you lose fat. And yes, it really is that simple so skip the fads and get back to the basics.
WALKING TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE
Are you a gym rat who constantly crushes your workouts day in and day out? You’re probably wondering how walking can help you, right? The short answer is that it will help aid in recovery, which in the long run will support you in improving performance.
Let me explain…
If you’re attending spin class multiple times per week, hitting the weights 3-4 days per week, and even doing HIIT cardio training, you’re probably suffering from some of the following side effects:
Hard time sleeping
Plateaued in your weight loss and/or strength
Severely reduced or increased appetite
Irritability or crankiness
Those are all symptoms of overtraining. The reason behind all of this is that you’re training at too high of a heart rate, too often. Yep. It’s a real thing. You want that balance between working your heart and getting your blood pumping but you also don’t want that poor guy to be at 100% all of the time. Training at max heart rates should only be done twice per week, MAX and that’s only if you have a really good aerobic base.
Instead replace a few of those workouts with a nice long walk, keeping your pace high but not to the point where you’re running. Maybe those professional speed walkers are on to something, huh?
Just remember that low and slow will help your body recover better and your nervous system won’t be shot by the end of the week.
HOW TO INCORPORATE WALKING IN YOUR ROUTINE
I’m not saying walking is the end all be all of exercise and that’s the only thing you should be doing. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve been working out, or even if you’re a serious gym beast, walking should be a staple of your exercise routine. After working with thousands of clients over the years who are just trying to be healthy, walking is usually the biggest weapon to reacquiring their health.
Get started with a 20 minute walk, once a day. Your intensity doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you get moving.
You can put on a podcast, call a friend or parent, or listen to some chill music and use the wonderful act of walking to get your body back to normal.
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ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified