There’s no denying that 2022 is the summer of the “hot girl walk,” at least according to TikTok, where the low-impact exercise has become a viral sensation thanks to nearly 400 million views on videos with the #hotgirlwalk hashtag. Plus, walking is also a beneficial, low-impact way to get in some cardio. “Walking is a great form of low-intensity steady state [LISS] cardio, or cardio training at a low intensity that you do anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour,” says Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., strength coach and founder of TS Fitness in New York, NY.
Walking is an important daily physical activity with research backing its many advantages, such as improving cardiovascular fitness, increasing energy levels, and even enhancing mood and strengthening immune function. Of course, taking a walk just for joy to showcase your new Lululemon leggings or to get your vitamin D-fix is reason enough to get outdoors, so not every stroll needs to turn into a heart-pumping workout. But for those days when you’re craving a bit of a challenge, increasing the difficultyof your walk can do just that. Here, top trainers share tips on how to level up your daily steps and add intensity to your jaunts.
7 Options to Enhance the Intensity of Your Walking Workout
1. Go at a demanding but sustainable pace.
Your walking workout might be on the treadmill or outside, with you moving at a comfortable pace, but is it feeling a bit too easy? “You should be moving at a challenging steady pace, one where you can keep it moving, but you’re also not too comfortable,” says Mathew Forzaglia, an NFPT-certified personal trainer and the owner of Forzag Fitness in New York, NY. “You want to be at about 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, which, if you have access to a heart rate monitor or a watch with built-in heart rate reading, you can use to help you track.”
Don’t have a heart rate monitor? Use the “talk test” as a way to gauge intensity.
You desire to be progressing at a speed wherein you are capable of expressing yourself verbally but cannot engage in vocalizing melodious tunes; you have the ability to converse utilizing complete sentences, although you experience a slight shortage of breath.
2. Incorporate weighted resistance.
By adding some additional weight to your walk, you’re introducing resistance. “Weights can replicate the resistance of the levels on an elliptical,” explains Tamir. “By incorporating resistance, you’re elevating your heart rate and enhancing overall cardiovascular health.” While you can utilize handheld weights, wrist weights, or ankle weights, Tamir suggests a weighted vest. “It evenly distributes the weight, unlike ankle weights that can alter your entire gait, something you should avoid,” since an altered gait can stress your ankle joint and heighten the risk of injury. (Speaking of injury prevention, be sure to explore our 2023 Sneaker Awards to discover the best walking shoes for your specific foot type.)
3. Vary your walking pace with intervals.
There’s no denying that walking offers benefits such as improved stamina, reduced bodily stress, and heightened cardiac efficiency. However, incorporating some speed intervals into your walk brings distinct advantages to an otherwise relaxed cardiovascular workout. “By integrating faster intervals, you’ll focus on heart rate variability, enhance your cardiovascular health, and also burn more calories,” clarifies Tamir. “Not only will you burn more calories in less time, but you’ll also increase the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, which enables the body to continue burning calories even after your workout is finished.” In other words, while the workout may be complete, your metabolism remains elevated for a period of time afterward.
4. Walk at a higher altitude.
If you reside at or near a higher elevation (defined by a study in Respiratory Research as 5,000 feet or higher), consider elevating your walk to new heights. “Exercising at [a higher] altitude can enhance the supply of oxygen to your muscles, resulting in slower fatigue,” elaborates Tamir. That’s because, as a 2016 study discovered, altitude training can boost the production of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone responsible for generating red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout your body.
Altitude training also enhances your VO2max, or the quantity of oxygen your body consumes during physical activity, which enhances endurance, explains Tamir. Research supports these assertions: A research study in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry demonstrated that exercising at high altitudes was more effective than training at sea level in delivering oxygen to athletes’ blood and muscles. Another study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that altitude training improved VO2max in elite long-distance runners.
TL;DR: If there’s a hike you’ve intended to attempt or you reside near some hilly trails, contemplate altering the location for your usual walk. That way, you can experience the advantages of elevation and exercise in nature simultaneously.
5. Breathe through your nostrils vs. your mouth.
For experienced walkers, altering your breathing technique throughout your distance can also intensify the workout. “Keep your mouth shut and inhale and exhale through your nostrils while finding a consistent pace that’s challenging, but sustainable,” says Forzaglia. “Not only are you challenging your nervous system [by focusing on a new breathing method], but you’re also reducing your respiratory rate or the number of breaths you take during exercise.” Translation: You’re exerting more effort to consume the same amount of oxygen that you would by breathing in and out through your mouth. As a research study in the International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science reveals, this type of nasal restricted breathing pattern does not result in a decrease in cardiovascular fitness level. Nasal breathing may be challenging at first and may feel uncomfortable, but over time, studies indicate that it becomes easier and your breathing becomes lighter and more efficient.
6. Walk in the sand.
If you reside near the water, consider taking a sandy beach walk instead of a stroll on solid pavement. “I recommend doing this without shoes,” says Tamir. “The sand offers an unsteady resistance, compelling your body and especially your feet to work harder. You’ll not only obtain cardiovascular benefits from the walk itself, but you’ll also strengthen your feet.” That’s because when you walk in sand, “your nervous system must recruit additional muscle fibers in your legs, hips, and core in response,” as Rocco Bergin, a trainer for the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City who frequently leads workouts in the club’s sandpit, previously stated to Shape.
Not fortunate enough to reside near the coastline? Test imitating the resilience of sand walking with pool walking; the liquid adds resistance to your walking without affecting your joints, according to Shape’s previous report. You can also experiment with walking on a variety of surfaces, such as turf or soil trails, to assist in strengthening your feet.
7. Integrate muscle-building exercises.
Walking may be a cardiovascular workout, but you can still integrate muscle-building exercises into your conditioning. “Along your route, pause to perform some bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, skaters, or even bench hops,” remarks Tamir. “You’ll engage other areas of the body, while simultaneously maintaining an elevated heart rate.”
Having a range of alternatives to intensify your walking workout can infuse novelty into your usual walking regimen. Attempt incorporating these progressions into your upcoming walking workouts and observe which variations assist in keeping you motivated to be active.
Many thanks for your input!