Walking. Running’s just as glamorous cousin. Yes, running is awesome, but truth be told, so is walking. And I mean, walking is really awesome. Why? Because if you choose to, you could get up right now, just go outside and walk. You can pretty much walk anywhere, at anytime.
Walking can be incorporated into your daily routine with ridiculous ease. And where running takes time to master, walking does not. Running is a high-impact exercise, walking is not. If you are overweight or have health issues that rule out high-impact activity, walking is a much better and more feasible exercise than running.
Countless numbers of doctors recommend it. Scores of studies extol its benefits. Walking is sociable. Walking is cheap. You don’t need to join a gym. Everybody walks. And with the right technique you can burn a ton of calories, lose weight, tone up and get fit.
How to Boost Calories Burned Walking
While running burns a lot of calories, the calories burned walking aren’t too shabby either. This table gives a good general idea of the calories burned walking for 30 minutes on a level surface.
Here’s how to up the ante and turn a regular walk into a challenging workout that will boost the calories burned walking, help you lose weight and tone your body.
1 Walking Speed
Don’t think so much about how fast you are walking, but how hard you are exercising. In other words, think about intensity, and the right pace will follow. To increase fitness and lose weight you need to walk at the right intensity, which we’ll call your “target zone”. The target zone is usually between 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate.
To get in the target zone, walk at a pace where you feel as though you’re walking with purpose, that is walking faster than usual, and slightly out of breath. Start walking at a pace as though you are on your way to an appointment with little time to spare. If that pace seems too easy, try walking at a pace as though you were several minutes late for an appointment.
There are three ways to gauge whether you’re walking in your target zone.
- An easy way is to guesstimate using a scale of 1 – 10 (called a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale or RPE). See here for a quick explanation of RPE. Aim to walk at a pace that feels like level 6 or 7 on the scale.
- You should be able to pass the “talk test.”
- Use a heart rate monitor. First, use this heart rate calculator, to convert 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate into actual numbers. For example, 65% and 85% or your maximum heart rate might be 125 beats per minute (bpm) and 165bpm. Then when you’re out walking and wearing your heart rate monitor, you know you need to walk at a pace that gets your heart rate between 125bpm and 165bpm. That’s all!
Walking on the treadmill? An average person walks at a speed of about 2½ to 3 miles an hour (about 20 minutes a mile). To lose weight and get fit you should aim to walk at 3½ to 4 miles an hour (15 minutes a mile). Increasing your pace from 3 mph to 4 mph means you’ll burn about one third more calories.
To make things more challenging as you get fitter and keep losing weight, make your walking workout more challenging. If your current walking route takes 25-minutes to complete, try and cover the same distance in 24-minutes.
You may feel a little awkward walking more quickly than usual but that is simply because you are doing something new. Maintain your new speed for a week or two and then try and shave another minute off your time.
Walk faster and faster as the weeks progress until you are walking so quickly you feel you are almost about to break into a run. This fast speed will increase the cardiovascular demands of your workout and also burn more calories.
Just to underscore how effective it is to pick your pace, a 150 lbs woman walking for 30 minutes at a leisurely pace of 2.0 mph burns only about 72 calories. Increase that walking pace to 3.5 mph (brisk walk), she’ll burn about 136 calories. At a very brisk of 4.0 mph, it would be almost 180 calories. Basically, you can more than double your calorie burn, just by walking faster.
Read more: How to lose weight walking
2 Add Hills
Adding hilly terrain to your walking route will increase the intensity of your walking workout, activates your glutes and hamstrings and is easy on the knees. It’s a great way to add variety to a walk, avoid boredom and to stop your body from getting used to doing the same workout in order to keep burning as much fat as possible.
Walking on a gentle incline massively increases the calorie burn compared to walking on the flat. A 5% incline increases calorie burning by 50%. Climb anything you can, walking up a hill, climbing stairs, walking parking-garage ramps or increasing the incline on the treadmill (if you’re walking indoors).
Hill interval workout: Walk up fast, walk back down slowly and you have a great hill interval training session. Be sure to take care on the descents, especially on steeper hills, as walking downhill can place a significant stress on your knees.
If you are a beginner, avoid super-steep hills/ inclines. It’s better to tackle a moderate hill and maintain a good pace and momentum, than to slow right down for a steeper one.
3 Uneven Terrain
Walking on uneven surface such as grass, trails, sand, or anywhere off-road makes walking more challenging, works your muscles harder and burns more calories. Uneven surfaces mean your muscles have to work harder to keep you stable and the shifting ground means your gait will be less economical. This means you use more energy and burn more calories.
Walking calorie burn: Walking in sand (or snow) for example requires 2.1 to 2.7 times more energy than walking on a hard even surface.
For off road walking make sure your walking shoes are comfortable and suitable; it may be worth buying some walking boots to protect your feet and provide some ankle support.
If you do choose to venture far from home and into the wilds of nature, make sure you tell someone where you are going, what time you’ll be back and dress for whatever weather you are likely to face. Adventurous, off road walking is more of an undertaking than walking around your neighborhood during your lunch break, and so requires a little more planning ahead, but is well worth it!
Read more: Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
4 Add Weight
If walking is getting easier, and your fitness and strength levels have improved considerably, try adding weight. This will increase intensity and challenge your muscles.
How: Wear a weighted backpack or a weight vest. If you choose to wear a backpack, fill it with water or sand so that the weight is distributed evenly. Avoid wearing ankle or hand weights, as these can change your gait/ posture and increase injury risk.
Make haste slowly and only add a small amount of weight at a time. Adding weight places additional stress on your muscles and bones. So adding too much weight, too fast could result in sore joints and even injury. However, if you have hip, knee or ankle problems get the okay from doctor first.
5 Walking Poles
Using Nordic walking poles really is one of the best ways to increase the amount of calories burned walking, tone your whole body and to speed up weight loss. Nordic poles change walking from a predominantly lower body exercise into a whole body exercise.
Nordic walking (walking with Nordic poles) gets almost all the muscles of your body involved – 90% of your body’s muscles. Using Nordic poles engages your arm, shoulder, and back muscles, increases heart rate and strengthens the upper body.
Walking calorie burn: Walking using Nordic poles has been shown to increase calorie burn by up to 46%, although it feels just as easy or easier as regular walking!
Nordic walking sticks are super easy to use and decrease stress on the ankle, knee and hip joints. If you are the sociable type, there are Nordic walking clubs all over North America and Europe.
Read more: Beginner’s Guide To Nordic Walking
6 Pump Your Arms
Much of your walking speed is generated from your arms. Swinging your arms generates power and momentum, which propel you forward, help you burn more calories and build upper-body strength.
Bend your elbows at a 90° angle and swing your arms forwards and backwards as you walk. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed. This will also open your chest and improve posture, helping you get the most out of your walking workout.
7 Good Posture
Walking with good posture means your back and butt muscles can work more powerfully, and you’ll be able to walk faster and boost calories burned walking.
Good posture can be summarized in this: Walk tall. Keep your shoulders back, down and relaxed (not high and tight!), your eyes looking ahead and your chin level. Have a look at this infographic on running posture; from head to hip, it’s pretty much the same as for walking.
8 Engage Your Core
Some experts believe that the abdominal muscles are most effectively exercised standing. To maintain good posture and to tone your tummy muscles, pull your tummy muscles in and up, but continue breathing normally (don’t hold your breath!).
Walk with your whole foot. Roll through from heel to toe:
- Strike the ground with your heel, roll forward through the arch of your foot
- Push off from the ball of your foot/ toes. Push off from your toes as if wiping gum off your sole.
This gives you more power and burns more calories, but also recruits your calf, hamstring, and butt muscles, helping to lengthen your leg muscles for leaner, longer legs and working your gluteus, to firm and lift the butt.
To target your butt muscles even more, squeeze your glutes together as you push off with your back foot. Imagine you are holding a dollar note between your butt cheeks!
11 Longer Stride
The best way to walk fast is to take smaller, faster steps. But to add variety and work your legs muscles in a different way, increase your stride length.
Taking larger steps helps to firms your legs by working your inner and outer thigh muscles.
12 Add Intervals
Nothing burns calories like interval training, which is just pro speak for adding quick bursts of speed (or resistance/ difficulty) to your workout. Just like running, swimming, cycling or any other exercise you can add intervals to your walking workout.
Simply increase your speed, add some hilly terrain or climb some stairs for a few minutes.
How: Walk at a moderate pace for 5 minutes, then for 1 or 2 minutes walk faster (just below the point where you would break into a jog) or actually jog, then return to your normal pace to recover for 5 minutes, and repeat.
This will massively boost calories burned walking and your fitness levels, increase your walking speed and will keep your metabolism elevated for hours after your workout.
13 Change Direction
Inject one-minute intervals of backward walking or sideways shuffling. Changing direction challenges your muscle in new ways, works your thighs, glutes, calves, abs, and obliques, from different angles and improves balance, all of which mean you burn more calories and firm your body.
How: Walk slowly on an even surface, free of obstacles and dangers such as traffic, trees and potholes. When walking sideways, remember to work your left and right sides equally.
14 Incorporate Strength Moves
Incorporate thirty-second or 1-minute intervals during which you slow down and do knee lifts (lift your knees towards your chest before stepping forward), soldier kicks (keep legs straight), walking lunges or even jumping jacks.
Again this challenges your muscles in new ways, keeps your body guessing, adds intervals, increases calorie burn, builds muscle and boosts metabolism.
15 Walk a Little Further
The longer your workout, the more calories you should burn – assuming you keep your speed constant. Try and add a minute or two per week to your walk so you burn more calories.
Small, regular increases will gradually add up over the coming weeks and months and result in a big increase in your total energy expenditure. You can easily double you calorie burn by walking longer.
16 Add Short Jogging Intervals
If you have peaked in terms of walking speed and feel like you are about to break into a jog, why not go for it?! While jogging does place more stress on your joints than walking, it is a natural extension of walking and burns a lot more calories.
Using the interval method, you could walk for about 3 minutes and then jog for 30 seconds or 1 minute. Then gradually increase the length of time you spend jogging and reduce the length of your recovery walks.
Calorie burn: A 150lb woman walking for 30 minutes at a very brisk 4.0 mph will burn nearly 180 calories. Up the intensity to a light jog (5.0 mph pace), and she’ll burn a massive 286 calories. That’s a calorie boost of 60%!
Remember that jogging and running are more stressful on your joints, which means it’s not for everyone. If jogging and running aren’t for you then don’t worry. Use one of the other calorie burning strategies to increase the calorie burn of your walking workout. Or, if you’re set on picking up speed, try using the elliptical machine, which mimics running (including the high calorie burn!), but without the impact on the joints.
Read more: Beginner Run-Walk Plan
Check out the walking infographic below on how to burn more calories walking to lose weight, tone up and get fit.
If you want to lose weight, walking can help get you there. Aim to clock up at least 210-minutes of walking a week – that’s 30-minutes a day – and you will burn at least 1000 calories a week. This figure will be considerably higher if you incorporate some of the above calorie-boosting strategies.