The Beginner’s Guide To Walking For Fitness

If you have decided to begin walking for fitness, you’ve made a good choice.

It’s easy and there’s no expensive equipment to buy. It’s a natural way to achieve your fitness and fat loss goals.

I began a fitness walking program when I used to be overweight. I lost a significant body amount of body fat.

Now, I am lean and in good shape.

Our beginners guide to walking for fitness will tell you everything you need to know. Let’s start walking!

Health Benefits of Walking

Fitness walking can be defined as a brisk style of walking. You need to walk at a brisk pace to reap the rewards. Here are the benefits of walking for fitness:

  • Decreases Body Fat – Typically, a person weighing 160lbs can expect to burn approximately 100 calories per mile of brisk walking. 
  • Increases Heart Health – If you walk 5 days a week for only 30 minutes a day, you can lower the risk of coronary heart disease. (1)
  • Eases Joint Discomfort – Walking helps protect your knees and hips because it helps lubricate and strengthen the muscles surrounding these joints. Walking may also help lower arthritis pain. 
  • Improves Mood – Research suggests that regular walking has a positive effect on your mood. It helps lower stress, decrease feelings of anger, and ease depression. (2)
  • Increases Energy – Walking for fitness improves the flow of oxygen in the body. This helps you feel more awake and energized.
  • Improves Leg Strength – Walking helps increase leg strength. This is especially true if your route includes hills. However, besides walking, bodybuilders and athletes will still need to use resistance exercises for maximum leg development.

Walking Guidelines/Technique

Following are guidelines to consider as you prepare to walk for fitness. 

Before starting a walking program, or any type of fitness program you should check with your doctor if:

  • You have lived a sedentary lifestyle for the past year or longer. 
  • You are 65 or older and do not engage in an exercise program. 
  • You have a history of heart problems. 
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You experience dizziness 

Basic gear for walking should include the following:

Shoes 

You should wear shoes made for the task. Well-designed walking or running shoes will help you get the most out of your walking sessions. 

Clothes 

Dress comfortably and dress for the weather. In hot climates, choose clothes that are “moisture-wicking”. This means that the fabric moves sweat away from your skin. Choose nylon pants and avoid denim jeans. The problem with jeans is that they can hold sweat.

If you’re out in the rain, jeans soak it up like a sponge. For shirts, go with polypropylene, avoid cotton. Additionally, wear sunscreen on exposed areas. 

In cold climates, wear layers. This can include a base layer, followed by a fleece pullover or zip-up. You can add a hat, gloves and a jacket as needed. The outer jacket can be waterproof, and should not be bulky or too heavy.

If you walk in the early morning or around sunset, wear bright colors so cars can see you more easily.

Other Accessories 

All you should need to carry with you for your walk would be a water bottle, a smart device, and perhaps your keys. A smart device can track your steps, or you can use a pedometer. There are belt clips, waist packs, and small backpacks to carry your water bottle. 

Technique

It’s important to remember that you are walking for fitness. Here’s a breakdown of what a good walking technique should look like for best results:

Posture

Good posture allows you to breathe well, activate your core, and use your leg muscles for a good, natural walking stride. Before you begin to walk, take a moment, and set your walking posture.

Here are the steps you should follow for good walking posture: 

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at a comfortable space apart. 
  2. Make sure your head is up and you are standing straight and tall. Do not allow your shoulders to hunch forward.
  3. Keep your back straight.
  4. To activate the core, suck in your stomach. This helps you maintain a good posture while walking.
  5. Don’t allow your hips to lean forward. This is in keeping with the natural curves of your spine.
  6. Keep your eyes looking straight ahead. By doing this, you keep your up and your chin parallel to the ground. Do not walk looking down at your phone. This creates tension in your neck and upper body. You can check your phone after you are done.  
  7. Let your shoulders relax. If you keep your shoulders slightly back, it will help relieve tension. 
  8. All set? Now you’re ready to walk for fitness!

Arm Movement 

While this may seem self-explanatory, good arm motion will help you burn more calories. This is because you’re involving the entire body. It should be noted that you don’t have to actively involve the arms. However, as noted you will experience better results if you do.

Here are the steps to follow for good arm motion:

  1. Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Hold your hands naturally, do not make a fist.
  3. With every step, your arm that’s opposite your forward foot should come forward.
  4. As you bring your forward foot back, your opposite arm should also come back.
  5. Your elbows should stay close to the body.
  6. When bringing your arm forward, keep your hand low.
  7. If you find your arms get tired, alternate 5 minutes of arm motion with 5 minutes of arms relaxed at your side

Foot Movement 

A fitness walking step should be a smooth motion. Here are the steps you should follow: 

  1. Your heel should strike the ground first.
  2. Then, follow through on the step from your heel to your toes.
  3. Push off from the toes. 
  4. Bring your back leg forward and repeat.

At first, you may experience sore shins. This is natural until they get stronger.

Stride 

When walking briskly, the push-off by your back foot is important. It gives you more power and helps your speed. Don’t overstride, this stresses the lower leg joints. As you walk, keep your stride shorter in the front. Try to keep the rear foot on the ground longer. Give yourself a good push off.

As you gain experience, you can work on your stride. Since you are just beginning, focus on stride technique. Walk as briskly as your current conditioning allows. You will build speed and improve your technique over time. 

Pace

A brisk pace is different for each individual. It depends on such factors as your age, heart rate, and your current fitness level. A brisk pace can be defined as being between 13 to 20 minutes per mile. This translates to between 3.0 mph and 4.5 mph. You should be breathing harder, but should be able to speak in full sentences.

Heart Rate Zones

It’s useful to understand heart zones and to track your pulse for the best results. A smart deceive may have an app for this or you can wear a pulse monitor. Here are the various heart rate zones:

  • Healthy Heart Zone – This zone should be 50% to 60% of your maximum heart rate.  This zone is a comfortable zone to walk in. You should be able to carry on a full conversation while in this zone, but you might be breathing a little more. This is the lower end of the moderate-intensity zone.
  • Fitness Zone – This zone should be 64% to 76% of your maximum heart rate. You are breathing heavier in this zone but can still speak in short sentences. This is the best zone when walking or fitness. This includes fat loss. (3)

Beginner Walking Plan and Schedule

Check your posture before you begin your walk. Start at an easy pace and let the muscles warm-up. After 5 minutes, you can increase your speed. Your goal is to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week. You will accomplish this goal over 4 weeks. 

Week # 1

Begin your first week with a daily 15-minute walk. Use an easy pace. Your goal is to walk five days a week. A good way to do this is to walk two days, take a rest day, walk 3 days, and take another rest day. 

Your goal this week is 75 minutes

Week # 2

In your second week, add five minutes per day. You will be walking for 20 minutes, still five days a week. 

Your goal this week is 100 minutes

Week # 3

In your third week, add five minutes per. You will be walking for 25 minutes, still five days a week.

Your goal for this week is 125 minutes

Week # 4

In week #4, add five minutes per day. You will have reached your goal of 30 minutes per day, five days a week.

Your goal for this week is 150 minutes

Tips & Common Mistakes

Here are some good tips to get more out of your walking:

  1. If you find it difficult to meet your goals for any week, repeat the previous week’s time. 
  2. Beginning with week # 5, you can stay with 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Or you can set a new goal and work up to it in the same way. 
  3. Options include working up to 45 minutes per day or perhaps working up to one hour twice per week. It will depend on your goals and the progress you’ve made so far. 
  4. Other options include adding hand or ankle weights. Depending on your goal, you might consider a weighted vest. Some exercisers add in periods of jogging with walking.  
  5. You can also increase the effectiveness of your walks by choosing a terrain with more hills. If your goal is to increase intensity you should challenge yourself.  However, be smart about how fast you try to progress. Do it slowly. 
  6. Track your progress! Notate how long you walked, how you felt, and if it was easy or hard. Knowing how you’re doing helps you stay motivated. It also tells you when you’re ready to progress, or if you need to hold back for a week. 

Here are common mistakes you should look out for: 

Not Walking Fast Enough – Make sure you are focused on walking briskly. Don’t let yourself be distracted. You may just be walking, but it’s still a workout, and you should be focused on the task at hand. 

Walking Too Fast Too Soon – Pace yourself! If you push too hard too soon, you might end up sidelined with an injury. Follow your plan.

Posture – Keep conscious of your posture. Allowing poor posture to creep back will disrupt your core and place unneeded tension on your neck and shoulders. 

Over Dressing -. In colder months try to dress light but warm. While you can easily peel off layers, you still have to carry them.

Wearing The Wrong Shoes – The wrong type of shoe can disrupt your pace and cause foot discomfort. Pick a good walking or running shoe and wear only those when you walk. 

Summary

If you’re new to exercise, walking can be a great way to lose fat and get in shape. It’s free, it doesn’t require specialized exercise equipment, and best of all you can do it outdoors. All you really need to start is a good pair of walking shoes. If you’re ready to get going, our beginner’s guide to walking for fitness will get you off to the right start!

References: 

  1. Zheng, H., Orsini, N., Amin, J., Wolk, A., Nguyen, V. T., & Ehrlich, F. (2009). Quantifying the dose-response of walking in reducing coronary heart disease risk: meta-analysis. European journal of epidemiology, 24(4), 181–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-009-9328-9
  2. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
  3. American Heart Association. Know your target heart rates for exercise, losing weight and health. Updated January 4, 2015.
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