When I’m driving my kids to school and heading to work, I see a ton of people out in the mornings for a walk. Sometimes with an animal, and sometimes holding a set of Nordic poles. Enjoying nature, and getting in a great workout, right? Well, as with anything – it depends.
The top thing I hear from potential clients who are overweight and want to lose weight and get more active is “well, I walk.” The invention of the FitBit and devices like it have made getting in 10,000 steps a day a bit of a craze. And I’m all for people getting more active and healthier, but for the majority of people who really want results like weight loss, more strength and pain reduction, simply going for a walk isn’t going to get you there very quickly, and here’s why:
Walking Isn’t Intense Enough
To change the body, you need to provide a stimulus that is beyond what you normally do. Now, most people will think walking for 20 minutes is great – and if it’s more than you normally do it might be. However, most people simply go for a stroll at lunch and expect to lose weight. Simple math will tell you that this walk burns 140 calories, which is replaced as soon as you eat an apple. Even five days a week the calorie equivalent is basically one good solid hour long workout of high intensity. This is again, better than nothing, but please don’t expect any miracle weight loss.
Nordic walking at 4 MPH (which is quite fast for most people) burns 220 calories in 30 minutes. This is with the added pole movement. It feels great – and can be excellent for your mental health – but for fitness it is a bit lacking.
Walking will make you better at – walking. Unless you’re getting your heart rate up significantly you’re not getting any cardiovascular improvement. Unless you’re performing some body weight movements along the way (which is very easy to do) you’re not getting any strength improvements. So, what’s the benefit? One might be getting away from a seated position for a little while and destressing in the outdoors, but this again won’t give you any benefits for strength or weight loss.
People Use It To Justify Overeating
The amount of times I’ve heard “well, I went for a walk” at Starbucks while a person digs into a caramel latte could fill ten books. It’s the equivalent of the ladies who do Zumba or Aquafit at the gym and then promptly order a sugar loaded smoothie at the juice bar (often because they think it’s healthy – thanks, smoothie bar owners), instantly replacing every calorie they just burned. Plus, because they went to the gym that day I’m sure an extra glass of wine is fine at dinner. And then they wonder why they aren’t losing weight. Unless you’re paying attention to your nutrition weight loss simply isn’t going to happen. It’s a massive part of the equation.
This does not mean that you need to severely restrict your diet! There are simple changes you can make to support your new healthy habits (read my article HERE if you want some tips). You can still enjoy social time with friends and drink green tea or something that isn’t loaded with calories.
It’s Easy to Overdo It
I deal with overuse injuries on a daily basis. In fact, just because I spent the past weekend in Toronto and walked everywhere even my joints are a bit stiff today. If you suddenly take yourself from zero to a hundred without any progression then it’s easy to run into problems in your hips, knees and feet and ankles quite quickly. Then you get discouraged and stop. Many people join a group or start walking way too far way too soon because “it’s just walking”. It’s still loaded movement and repetition. The last thing we want is for you to get discouraged or injured before you even start, and walking is one of the chief culprits for this. Don’t even get me started on running.
So What are your Solutions? Again, there are some easy ways to ramp up something as simple as a walk and it doesn’t mean you have to run, enter an idiotic boot camp or kill yourself. In fact, for beginning exercisers this is a recipe for disaster.
It’s fairly simple to increase the intensity of a simple walk into something that will provide some results:
Get Your Heart Rate High, Even For Short Intervals
Studies show that increasing your heart rate to over 83% of your maximum for even four minutes can have a remarkable effect on your heart and lungs. This doesn’t mean you need to run – simply walk faster and with deliberate speed. It won’t take long for your heart rate to increase to the point where you are getting out of breath and you feel your muscles burning. Then stay there. Use the timer on your phone or other device and hold onto that level for 3-5 minutes. Even one minute has an effect, you just have to do more intervals. This is called interval training and it’s been proven to be the most effective method for increasing heart and lung capacity.
Add Some Strength Work
People seem to think that strength training is this horrible thing you need to do in a gym. Almost daily I provide simple isometric exercises for people they can do literally anywhere against a wall. In your office, at home or even at the gym with zero equipment required you can still generate strength. Do me a favour right now and find a wall. Stand with your back to it, rotate your foot out and left the side of your foot into the wall. Feel your butt fire? Great – push a bit harder and hold it for 30 seconds. Hang onto something if you need to for balance. You just gave your glute a workout. Most people while walking barely use their glutes at all because of the motion they are doing – so do this simple isometric (and a few others) in between those interval bouts – and give yourself some strength work at the same time.
All day long you’re going to pick things up, put them down, rotate your trunk, sit, sprint for the bus and many other things that need joint strength. It’s easy to add this into your daily walk with isometrics or bodyweight movements.
This may seem like a simple breakdown – because it is! Taking something like walking as a healthy habit and turning it into something much more effective over time isn’t difficult. If you’re trying to introduce this into your life, feel free to reach out for more detailed suggestions. I have an entire isometric at home system that I can share with you.
And, as always feel free to comment, tweet, add me to Facebook and reach out if you need anything!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…if you understand that reference then you’re probably my age or older (or just enjoy reading). Actually, this weekend it was the best of times for three of my athletes.
Recently in my city of Ottawa we had our annual Ottawa Race Weekend. It is a fantastic weekend for runners where they hold a marathon, half marathon and a 10k and 5k and all events are well attended with over 30,000 people participating. Every year it is run flawlessly for the most part (although they had a bit of a screw up on the ½ marathon course this year) and attracts runners from all over the world. Since runner coaching is a part of my business I wanted to share a story about three of my athletes who all come from different aspects of fitness, but all achieved a level of success this weekend, even though they started in very different places.
RP is a gentleman who has been working with me for over two years, who although he just turned 40 still has the athletic ability of a gazelle and the sparkling wit to match. When he started working with me he had acute Achilles tendonitis and he had 8 weeks to his first marathon. He couldn’t run for more than about 10k without pain. I distinctly remember the look on his face when I told him his mileage was getting cut in half 8 weeks before a marathon, but he went with it and successfully ran his first marathon. Since then he has done several other races including two more full marathons, a half marathon PB and a 500 kilometer bike ride from London to Paris. Last weekend he beat his personal best on the marathon by over 30 minutes by staying consistent and running 4 times per week with a gradual buildup to 65-75k per week over time.
TW is a woman who came to me only a few months ago with another problem – this time ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome and she couldn’t run at all, but still wanted to compete in the 10k with a restriction of only running 3 times per week (with a holiday mixed in for good measure). She had previously done marathon training so was used to volume, but had to have some adjustments to her speed (I actually sped her UP to give her a proper gait) and work on her IT band issues, which resolved fairly quickly. Her initial goal was to complete the 10k, but then a few weeks out we changed that to doing it in under an hour, which she had never done. She finished in 58:30 with a smile on her face and no IT band issues.
CM is a woman who I have been working with for about a year who came to me because she liked to walk long distances with a goal of completing another ½ marathon walk in another short time line. She is obese and has some other health issues that make it difficult for her to move. We got her through that race, however she continued to suffer from calf and ankle issues and had to restrict her volume so that she could stay consistent with her workouts. She completed another ½ marathon walk last weekend only about 10 minutes slower than the year previous – having never walked for more than an hour in training. For her a ½ marathon walk takes four hours but she got through it, even on a brutally hot day.
These three people all made significant accomplishments last weekend. The point I’m trying to make is that different people accomplish things differently. All three of these athletes came at their respective events from different places, skill levels and levels of progression. However, all had a successful result following a plan – and in CM’s case that plan was simply to get it done even though we both knew she was going to have a hard time. With all the athletes they did what they could to make consistent progress towards the goal they had set – and then those got modified when progress was either better or worse than expected.
Anyone can be successful given the right tools and progression, no matter what you want to do. Want to bench press 300 pounds? Want to run a marathon? Want to climb a mountain? Great. The idea is to set the goal and then work towards it carefully, mindfully towards what your body is capable of at that time and then just keeping moving forward. And you’re never going to get anywhere by trying to not listening and respecting your body when you try to push it too far too soon. The great thing is, it will tell you when you’re pushing too hard and try to stop you – you just have to listen.
Getting hurt doesn’t mean you have to stop – it means you have to learn what caused you to get hurt, and either stop doing it or modify what you’re doing in order to let it recover and not have it happen again down the road. Attack the problem, not the symptom. With a couple of these athletes it was a simple form adjustment and being mindful of what they were doing, which you should be doing anyway.
So today, tomorrow, whenever you start working towards something be smart, progress yourself within your tolerance limits and above all, listen to your body. Oh, and hire a good coach. I happen to know one, and he trains runners virtually as well if you’re interested. Maybe next year you can have the same success that all of these people did, even though they started from completely different places.
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