If you walk for exercise or to lose weight, you’re in good company. Walking is the most frequently reported form of physical activity to lose weight, according to the National Weight Loss Registry. But have you considered that you could be burning a lot more calories, and increasing your overall health – by pushing it harder?
Ok, you’re thinking, I’ve seen “power walking” and it’s not cool. Fast walkers pump their arms and shake their booties to propel themselves forward with tiny steps. Even when Olympic athletes fast walk (a sport called race walking), it looks, well, a little dorky.
Well, fear not. I’m going to show you that fast-paced walking (also called power walking or fitness walking) is not an exaggerated style of walking at all.
On the contrary, power walking is simply moving your body faster than normal with a few minor tweaks for a great calorie blast. And power walking is not just for beginners; I power walk on my off days from weightlifting and always work up a sweat.
Why Should You Power Walk?
No matter what your level of fitness, working your way up to fast walking is relatively easy compared with running. Once you can walk about 4.5 miles per hour (considered moderate to vigorous exercise depending on your fitness level), power walking can actually burn as many calories as running – but without the joint stress. One of the reasons I power walk is to get outside and clear my mind, but there are plenty of other good reasons:
- Burns calories
- Builds strength and stamina
- Maintains joint health
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Builds bone density mass
- Improves posture
- Enhances mood
How Many Calories Can You Burn?
As I mentioned, walking at 4.5 mph can burn as many calories as running. But that’s a pretty intense clip, so you’ll need to work your way up to that speed. The terrain will also have a big impact on how long and how fast you can go.
The more you weigh or the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you’ll burn. For example, someone weighing 120 pounds walking for an hour at 4.0 mph would burn about 229 kcals, while someone who weighed 160 pounds would burn 305 kcals. No matter what, the faster your pace or the hillier your route, the more calories you’ll burn.
I like to use a smart phone pedometer app to track my pace (my favorite is Pedometer Ultimate GPS+ by Arawella Corporation), but you can also use a heart rate/calorie monitor to gauge intensity.
If you don’t have access to these devices, time yourself to see how long it takes you to walk one mile. Then divide the distance walked by the time in minutes and multiply by 60. For example, if you walked four miles in 60 minutes, it looks like this: (4 miles/60 minutes) x 60 = 4 mph
The “power” in power walking is propelling your body forward with short strides, proper foot landing, and strong arm swings. Use this technique for perfect form:
- Pull in your abs and tuck your pelvis under your torso.
- Keep your shoulders back and your chin up, looking 10 to 15 feet ahead.
- Bend your arms to 90 degrees and swing your hands (in a relaxed fist) from your chest to your waist, driving your elbows behind you.
- Take small strides, landing on the heel of your foot, rolling through your instep, and pushing off with your toes.
- Keep your glutes tight and engaged.
I like to engage my glutes to the max and move from my hips when power walking; this is that hip sway you see some power walkers doing. You don’t have to move this way, but it does wonders for shaping and toning your glutes.
Here are few tips to make power walking more effective:
- Work up to vigorous speeds slowly. Start at your own pace and try going a little faster or about 10 percent longer each session.
- Warm up with a slower pace for five minutes and stretch for several minutes afterward.
- Don’t carry hand weights; they can strain your ligaments, tendons, and joints.
- Find comfortable walking shoes that are breathable and have a low heel and flexible sole.
- For variety and increase intensity, walk up and down hills or use the incline on the treadmill. Or repeat intervals of walking faster for two minutes and returning to a normal fast pace for three to five minutes.
For general health, The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends moderate exercise 30 minutes per day, five to seven days a week. For improved fitness, exercise more vigorously three to five times a week for 20 to 60 minutes per day.
For weight loss, create a daily calorie deficit while exercising five to six days a week for at least 45 minutes each session, mixing in moderate and vigorous intensities. For all goals, be sure to include strength training at least twice a week.