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.
|Dial in your speed|
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.
Think window-shopping pace, or an intensity of 4 on a scale of 10. It burns about 238 calories an hour.
This means an effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 10. It burns up to 340 calories an hour (at a 3.5 to 4 mph pace). While you can gossip about Mad Men, you need to catch your breath every few sentences.
You're torching off approximately 564 calories an hour (at a 4 to 5 mph pace). Moving at this clip, using your arms to help propel you forward and taking longer strides, your effort should be a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. Talking is possible only in spurts of three or four words, but...you'd...rather...focus...on...breathing.
|The amped-up plan|
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: • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes. • Workout: Maintain a power-walk intensity for 30 minutes. • Cooldown: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.
Burns about 355 calories: • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes. • Interval Workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (8 on a scale of 10) for 5 minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 6 intervals. • Cooldown: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.
Burns about 405 calories: • Warm-up: Stroll for 5 minutes. • Interval Workout: Maintain a hard power-walk intensity (8 on a scale of 10) for 2 minutes. Recover at a brisk pace for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 15 intervals. • Cooldown: Stroll for 3 to 5 minutes.
|Walk this way|
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.
Your gaze shouldn't be aimed at your feet, no matter how snazzy your sneakers are. Instead, focus on a point about 10 feet ahead of you. This will keep your stride longer and your neck comfortably in line with your spine.
Activate Your Abs
When you brace your core—pulling your belly button toward your spine—you automatically trigger good posture.
Squeeze Your Glutes
Your backside literally propels you through your walk. To get the most oomph—so you can go longer and faster—keep your glutes tight. Bad visual, good strategy: Imagine squeezing a winning lottery ticket between your cheeks.
|4 ways to burn more fat|
So you're the impatient type? Use these tricks to up the challenge and calorie burn.
When you hit the hills on a treadmill or in your neighborhood, you increase your calorie burn by nearly 20 percent—and that's just on a 1 to 5 percent incline.
Head out for a light but brisk hike and you'll torch about 430 calories in just an hour. Credit the uneven terrain—which forces you to work harder. Sub this in for one of your weekly power walks.
Swing Your Arms
With elbows bent at 90 degrees and hands in loose fists, move your arms in an arc, keeping elbows tight to your body. This helps drive you forward, says Weltman, builds upper-body strength and can increase your burn by up to 10 percent.
Make Longer Strides
Instead of taking more steps, "work on increasing your stride length," Weltman says. "You'll cover more ground," and that means more fat fried.
|Itching to run?|
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.