Walking Exercise Tips

Sneer if you must, but the figures don’t lie: The No. 1 participation sport among women is walking. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 46.6 million women walked for exercise in 1996. But how can an activity easily mastered by most 1-year-olds one that led to the very word pedestrian possibly be considered a real sport? It’s all a matter of cranking up the intensity. Forget about plodding strolls to the nearest Starbucks. An hour of “sport walking” can burn as many calories and build as many muscles as the same amount of running with far fewer injuries. And it can be every bit as competitive.

Use these health and fitness calculators to calculate how many calories you can burn walking.

But there’s more to making walking into a real sport than just left, right, repeat. First, pony up for a pair of dedicated walking shoes. Sport walkers hit the ground with about half as much force as runners do, so they don’t need all the bulky cushioning of running shoes. Next, hit the street with these tips in mind:

The need for speed. Running has a built-in intensity level, but with walking you need to become a bit of a speed junkie. “Sport walkers need to find ways to challenge their limits,” says Ellen Abbott, walking director of the Boston Athletic Club. One favorite technique: speed intervals. After warming up at a moderate pace, alternate walking hard for three minutes with a three-minute recovery period done at a slower pace. The final interval is fastest. Finish with a five-minute cooldown. Plan on at least 40 minutes, total.

Hill of a workout. As any San Franciscan knows, nothing makes walking more of a challenge than a few hills. Work out a route with some well-spaced ridges. Because extra-long hills can be daunting, however, Abbott suggests doing “suicides,” a technique that breaks inclines into manageable chunks. On a long hill or set of stairs, start by walking halfway up, then recover by turning around and going down half the distance you just covered. Head back up to the midpoint, then back to the bottom. Continue mixing it up until you get winded. You’ll keep exertion levels high without letting boredom set in. So what if the neighbors think your Thorazine prescription just lapsed?

The motivation game. Walking a marathon or 10K is just one way sport walkers challenge themselves. Others set a big distance goal say, walking across America then log daily mileage and plot their progress on a map, all without leaving their neighborhood. Sad and nerdy, you say? Nonsense, reply sport walkers. This isn’t sky surfing: It helps to stay engaged.


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