Many people walk to lose weight and burn fat, but the average walking routine is not very effective or time efficient. The problem is that most walking routines suffer from poor program design and do not change enough over time. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to improve the weight loss and fat burning effects of walking.
The two most common problems with walking routines are they are too easy and they don’t include enough variety.
A good general rule is if you don’t feel challenged at all, then you are not getting much out of your workout. This does not mean you have to push yourself as hard as possible, but you should be at least a little out of your comfort zone.
The other very common mistake people make is to perform the same walk day after day.
If you always walk the same speed and distance, then your body gets used to the walk too quickly. Even if the walk is initially challenging, as your fitness improves, the walk will continue to get easier until it is not difficult enough to stimulate further improvements in fitness, weight loss or fat burning.
In addition, the more frequently you repeat the same walk, the less effective it becomes.
Whenever a workout is repeated over and over, your body gets more efficient at that workout. This is bad if you want to lose weight, because increased efficiency means your body does not expend as much energy when performing the workout.
In other words, repeating the same workouts causes your body to burn fewer calories, resulting in less weight loss. As far as how to avoid these problems and make walking more effective, there are many options available.
One of the best things you can do is switch from walking at a constant pace to performing an interval style workout. If you are not familiar with interval workouts, they involve alternating between different speeds when performing cardio workouts, such as walking.
For example, you could walk at your regular pace for two minutes and then walk at a significantly faster pace for one minute, before switching back to your regular pace again. The alternating of speeds then continues throughout the workout.
You do not have to use a 2:1 ratio and the better your fitness level, the more time you should spend walking at faster speeds. You may have to experiment to figure out what ratios and speeds work well for you. However, even when you find a good walking interval, you should still not perform that same workout all the time. Even a well designed workout loses effectiveness if it is performed over and over.
If you enjoy interval workouts, you can perform them more frequently, but make an effort to change both the interval lengths and walking speeds from workout to workout. After performing a walking workout, I suggest performing a minimum of two different walks before repeating the same workout again.
If you do not like interval training or want to add even more variety (which is recommended), you can still perform constant speed walks, but make an effort to add variety and challenge. You can alter a number of variables, such as your walking speed, duration, terrain (surface), and route.
Walking speed and duration are the easiest things to change, because you can change those variables at any time. In general, the faster you walk and the harder you push yourself, the shorter your walk can be. If you normally perform long easy walks, increasing your speed is a great option. It adds challenge and decreases the amount of time you need to spend walking, so walking becomes easier to fit into a busy schedule.
If you want to increase your endurance and possibly work up to half or full marathons, then you definitely have to perform long walks. In order to train your body to walk long distances, then you have to train using long distances at least once or twice a week. This means that the better your fitness level, the longer your walks need to be to stimulate further progress.
However, if you are mainly interested in losing weight and burning fat, then you can accomplish at least as much with shorter/faster walks and interval training.
Changing your walking route and surface are also good options, but they can be a little more difficult to work into a routine. Changing your route can be easy, but it is most effective when the routes are significantly different. If you pick a new route, but both routes involve walking on flat ground, it is not much of a change.
The real benefits come from making changes like switching from a flat route to one with a lot of hills. If you walk on a treadmill you can change the incline during your walks. These changes provide a different challenge to your muscles, which stimulates improvements in fitness and results in greater weight loss than you would get by performing the same easy workouts day after day.
Changing your walking terrain may not be practical, but different walking surfaces do provide different challenges to your body, especially if the surface is significantly different.
If you typically walk on flat and firm surfaces, then walking on sand is a great way to add variety and challenge, because the sand increases the demand on your stabilizer muscles and forces your bigger muscles to work harder with each step.
Any of these changes improve the effectiveness of walking workouts, and the more variety the better. You don’t have to constantly change every variable, but try to change at least one major variable, such as speed, from workout to workout. However, regardless of the changes you make, your workout must always be somewhat of a challenge if you really want to lose weight and burn fat.
Finally, it is a good idea to change your method of exercise from time to time, especially if you exercise every day. Instead of always walking, you can bike, swim, or participate in a sport. This will change the muscles you use during your workouts and help prevent potential overuse injuries that can develop from performing the same motions over and over for an extended period of time.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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