7 ways to make your walks more intense and more interesting
Experts share how to change up your route and routine
Walking is perhaps an underrated form of exercise because, well, many of us do it all the time to get from point A to point B. But walking is a sport in its own right. Just ask Canadian racewalker and Olympic bronze medalist Evan Dunfee. The Vancouver native started race walking at 10 years old, and has been doing it ever since.
Dunfee points out that, as a physical activity, walking spans a huge spectrum, and like most pursuits, what you get out of it depends on what you put in. So whether you're an athlete or someone who's currently inactive but wants to start moving more, walking can offer a range of benefits and varying levels of impact.
We talked to experts to get ideas on how to turn your regular ol' strolls into more interesting and intense workouts.
Also known as power walking and aerobic walking, speed walking, as the name suggests, is essentially walking at a quicker speed. Power walking coach Lee Scott teaches her clients to use the muscles in the back of their bodies to move faster. For beginners, she recommends lifting your eyes up so that you can see where you're going, rather than focusing on the ground ahead. This automatically allows the body to speed up, as the weight of the head won't be pulling you down. She advises bending your arms at the elbows as well — this will also help the body move more swiftly.
Mix in intervals
Try walking as fast as you can for short periods of time. Scott suggests starting by speeding up your pace for 15 seconds and taking a 45-second slow walk to recover. Then, repeat the interval. If keeping track of time doesn't appeal to you, you could opt to use a marker instead, like walking as quickly as you can to the corner of a street before slowing down to a normal pace.
One of the easiest ways to increase the intensity of walks, Scott says, is to find a hill and walk up it briskly — then repeat. In particular, walking uphill can help to strengthen specific muscles, like the glutes and hamstrings, which are less activated on flat surfaces.
Gamify your routine
Scott suggests integrating games into your walks to stay motivated and make things more fun. For example, those born on the eighth of the month could use that number to guide their sets, walking up and down a flight of stairs eight times. Or perhaps you'd rather set out on your walk in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure book with the mission to discover three things — a cool cloud formation, a unique garden and a new coffee shop, for instance. You could even commit to a year-long event: In 2020, Scott set a personal goal of walking 20 straight kilometres in a different area in Toronto every week for the full year. By the end of the year, she had explored 52 different neighbourhoods.
Give race walking a go
Race walking uses a very specific technique, which includes having one foot in contact with the ground at all times. The racewalker's leading leg must also be completely straight when it makes contact with the ground. The technical rules of the sport are what make it more fun and challenging to do — and they're also what pushes the body. "For example," Dunfee said, "my recent race at the Commonwealth Games, a 10-km race, my average heart rate for that race was 183 beats per minute."
(Want to learn the race walking technique? Here's how to do it.)
Focus on nasal breathing
Challenge yourself to try breathing through your nose as you walk. This is a technique Dunfee uses in his own training, which he says got him more in tune with his body. Start by walking at a brisk pace, breathing only through your nose for one minute, and then return to easy walking with normal breathing for a minute. Repeat 10 sets of this breathing interval. As your pace quickens, you'll naturally want to start breathing through your mouth, Dunfee says, but try to maintain that nasal breathing.
Go the distance
Adding distance to your walks will naturally increase the intensity of your workout. You could start with 1 km, then add an extra kilometre week to week. Or, if you're a seasoned walker, you may want to start at 5 km, then progress to 6 km, 7 km and so on.
But there will be times when even an easy walk to admire the sunset can feel like a daunting activity. In those instances, Scott recommends committing to just a 10-minute walk and giving yourself permission to go home after those 10 minutes. Then, if you still feel good and want to continue for another five minutes after that — great!
Dunfee says that sometimes simple errands can be effective motivators, because you're putting yourself in a position to actually accomplish something tangible, such as through a walk to the store. "I think that's a really great way to get started," he says. "And then very quickly, you'll kind of be like, 'Oh, I quite enjoyed that just for the sake of doing it,' and all of a sudden you'll find yourself going for walks without a mission at hand."
Janet Ho is a writer who recently ran her first half-marathon. She is currently recovering with trail walks.