When you want to shed serious weight, walking might not even come to mind. But it should.
“Fast-paced walking, when combined with healthy eating, is hugely effective for weight loss,” says Art Weltman, PhD, director of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia. And those simple steps can have a big impact on your overall health, cutting your risk of everything from heart disease to depression. If your daily strolls haven’t made you skinny so far, your speed may be the problem. Many of us stride more like a window-shopper than a power walker. The goal—thankfully—isn’t crazy race-walker style; you just need to move at a challenging pace.
In studies, Weltman has found that women who do three short (about 30-minute) high-intensity walks plus two moderately paced recovery walks a week lose up to six times more abdominal fat than participants who simply stroll five days a week. (This despite the fact that both groups burn the exact same number of calories.)
The power walkers also drop about four times as much total body fat. “There is a strong relationship between intensity of exercise and fat-burning hormones,” says Weltman. “So if you’re exercising at a pace considered to be hard, you’re likely to release more of these hormones.” The best part: When women walk, deep abdominal fat is the first to go. That’s a scientific fact we can get excited about.
Another happy truth: Although you’re moving at a fast clip, power walking is still easier on the joints than running. “During walking one of your feet is always in contact with the ground,” says Weltman, “but during running there’s a float stage where your whole body is lifted in the air. Then you come back down and subject your body to the impact.”
That’s why walking is a smart long-term fitness plan. To get you off on the right foot, here’s a complete primer, from how to tweak your speed for maximum burn to what gear you need (hint: almost none). Follow the workouts and wisdom—along with healthy eating—and not only can you lose those extra 10 pounds in three weeks, but you will have a no-fuss plan that you can do anywhere, anytime.
To make sure your pace is on point, use these guidelines from exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym. For maximum fat burn, aim for 30 minutes at power-walk intensity three days a week (see the walking plan on the next page). That time can be completed all at once, or you can break it up into spurts with recovery strides (stroll or brisk walk) in between.
This program from Holland mixes a regular walking workout with interval routines to help you reach your power-walking quota of 30 minutes, three times a week. Aim to walk on three nonconsecutive days and either rest or cross-train on the other ones. If you cross-train (think power yoga or swimming), you’ll help your body recover; and with our diet, you’ll progress more quickly to dropping up to 10 pounds in three weeks.
Burns about 220 calories:
Burns about 355 calories:
Burns about 405 calories:
When it comes to walking, your body and brain know what to do. Makes sense—you’ve been doing it since you took those first wobbly baby steps. But with these three form fixes, you’ll maximize your burn, big time.
So you’re the impatient type? Use these tricks to up the challenge and calorie burn.
Let’s face it: Some of us would rather just run. But if you go from zero to Usain Bolt on your first outing, you might end up sidelined. Use this guide from Holland to transition from walking to running safely.
For the running newbie: Do this modified version of the Short-Interval Day (see “The Amped-Up Plan,” left) three times a week: Run for one minute (work up to two minutes over the course of a couple of weeks), walk for one minute and repeat for a total of 15 intervals. Do this for a few weeks, then transition to the Long-Interval Day, running for five minutes and walking for one, repeating for a total of six intervals. The goal is to eventually tackle Tempo Day—running for 30 minutes nonstop.
For the on-and-off runner: Assuming you have some running experience under your belt, you can dive right into the Long-Interval Day plan, subbing in running for the power walks. The intervals should be challenging, and the Tempo Day run should be done at a hard but comfortable pace.
For the gym-goer: You can also use this plan to cross-train, doing the exact same routines while on the elliptical machine, rowing machine or stationary bike.
Functional & Physical Medicine & Nutritional Specialist*