Spring is in the air, so what better time to start taking your workouts outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and a little more sunshine (hopefully - depending where you live)!
Walking has many health benefits associated with it but sometimes these are forgotten because it is not viewed as a workout, or you may not get your heart rate up enough to feel that you’ve worked up a sweat. Here are some tips to still enjoy that leisurely walk whilst getting a little more bang for buck.
Select a route with an incline or mixed terrain:
Rather than just going for your casual walk around the block try to mix it up and opt for a path that has inclines and declines rather than no grade at all. An even better option is to choose somewhere with stairs or a nearby hill. Whilst it may not be a walking route, you can tackle the stairs/hill a number of times depending on your energy levels, motivation and time available.
Adding a decent incline to your walk will help to recruit the larger muscle groups of your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps compared to the work involved when walking on flat terrain. Recruiting a larger number of muscle fibres means that your body is working harder, burning more calories and will help in toning and strengthening your lower body. Inclines are also fantastic for cardiovascular fitness as the higher intensity levels increase your heart rate and start to utilise your anaerobic energy system. It almost serves as a form of HIIT as you are on the climb (work effort), followed by your active recovery (descent). You can mix it up and take the stairs one or two at a time and striding it out up a hill mimics a lunge exercise and can assist in delivering the same results.
Select a route with a view & get back to nature:
Have you ever noticed how the distance and time seems to pass so much faster when you are walking along your favourite coastal or bush track? Selecting a walking route with a view such as along the coast or through the bush can not only assist in providing a great form of stress relief through getting back to nature and off of the treadmill, it can also provide a source of inspiration from the countless others exercising along these paths and motivate you to go that little bit further or walk that little bit faster.
Sometimes getting into your walking shoes and out of the house can be the hardest part of your workout. Once you are out in the fresh air and surrounded by others being physically active the energy can often be contagious and you may find that instead of the 20 minute walk you barely had the energy for turns into a 30-40 minute walk. You can also aim for landmarks as your turn around point.
Take it barefoot and to the beach:
Beach walking is a fantastic way to tone your legs, increase your heart rate and up the intensity of your usual stroll. Even if you’re energy levels are low, a short beach walk will ensure you work harder and burn more calories than you would if you were walking on a foot path for the same duration (it requires 2-3 times more energy than walking on hard surfaces).
If you are walking a long distance in soft sand you may find that your feet are sore the following day. This is due to your muscles and tendons working harder on the soft surface and increasing your proprioreception (which is a good thing!). If this bothers you though, it may be a good idea to wear a supportive pair of shoes. However just like sore muscles from the gym, they will usually subside within 24-28 hours.
Taking your walk to the beach also gives you the added bonus of taking a refreshing dip to cool off afterwards, is a relaxing way to start or end your day and you get a dose of vitamin D to assist in improving immune function, calcium absorption, and your mood!
Add some resistance to your walk:
Keep an eye on your watch and every five minutes try to adding some of the following exercises into your walk: Walking lunges x 12 each leg / Standing body weight squats or jump squats x 15
If you are going for a 30 minute walk that equates 5-6 sets of the above and you will certainly feel it in your legs by then end of it.
If your usual walking route has benches scattered along it, for example at a park or along a foot path, incorporate the following for every lap that you complete or every 5th bench/5 minutes (1 -2 rounds per bench stop):
Tricep dips x 12
Incline push-ups x 12
Step ups x 12 each leg
Bench crunches x 12
Change the speed:
Just as you would when performing HIIT on the treadmill, try to vary your walking speeds to utilise both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Whilst power walking may not increase your heart rate to the same level that a sprint would, adding 30 seconds of a faster pace walk (work effort), followed by two minutes of your normal pace (recovery) for a lower intensity interval style workout can be highly beneficial.
The work efforts are only short lived so are a great option is you are also short on energy. If you don’t want to watch you clock to time this, aiming for landmarks is another great form of adding some power walking. Select a landmark and increase your walking speed until you reach this, then recover at a steadier pace until you reach the next identified landmark to pick it up again.
Investing in a pair of ankle, wrist or small hand weights are also a great way to add a little extra resistance to your walk to help your upper body work a little bit harder. Holding something in your hands reminds you to pump your arms which in turn can improve the efficiency of your gait an encourage you to increase your pace (hence why sprinters have such a great arm drive when they are racing). If you don’t want to be walking the streets with your light dumbbells in hand you could always take a drink bottle with you and swap arms while you are walking to help encourage you to use your arms, focus on your posture and activate your core.
If you have a treadmill at home there is no excuse to grab a set of dumbbells or weights if you have them available and try to walk for five minutes pumping these in your arms, then take 2-3 minutes recovery before picking them up again.
Check the beat:
Set yourself a decent playlist to accompany you on your walk. Choose songs of about 128BPM which equates to a brisk walk for most people. Music is a great way to keep you motivated, pass the time and keep up your pace.
There are some easy and effective ways of increasing the intensity of your leisurely stroll whilst not feeling like you have just finished a round of HIIT. Walking is a fantastic low intensity, aerobic exercise that is low impact on your joints and great for those days when you can’t quite muster the energy to fit in a run or days of active rest. Try to incorporate some of the above tips when you next set out on a walk to help turn it into more of a workout.