Walking for Fitness

It's fun, it's free -- and it's a total-body workout.


Fitness walking is a great way to lose weight, feel better, and stay energized. Your odds of injury are small, and you don't need expensive equipment or a well-equipped gym. You can do it outside in nice weather, or around the mall or an indoor track when the weather is less than ideal.

Whether you're a beginning exerciser or a seasoned athlete, we have a walking program that can help you stay lean and toned. After reviewing some general principles, you can take your choice of three walking workouts.

Ready? Then let's get started!

Before You Begin

Walking for health or weight loss is something to work up to. If you haven't exercised recently or regularly, you will need to start slowly. But even with our "Getting Started" plan, you'll see results within a couple of weeks.

Doing It Right

It seems silly to talk about the right or wrong way to walk, but you'll get better results and fewer sore muscles if you follow these general guidelines:

  1. Always warm up at a comfortable pace for about five minutes. This prepares the muscles and lubricates your joints. Cool down at the end of your session by returning to this comfortable pace for five more minutes.
  2. Stand up straight, but stay relaxed. Let your arms swing naturally, and walk with a feeling of purpose.
  3. As your speed increases, bend your elbows so your forearms are parallel to the ground, "pumping" your arms as you walk. Don't clench your fists.
  4. Land heel, ball, toe. Roll from the heel to the ball of your foot, then push off the forefoot. Don't hyperextend or "lock" the knees.
  5. Although you can walk in most any comfortable shoes, you'll eventually benefit from models designed for fitness walking. Any well-stocked athletic footwear store can help you find a walking shoe that suits your needs.
  6. Don't exercise when you are sick or feeling under the weather.
  7. When exercising in hot weather, drink extra water before and during your workout. Stop immediately if you feel faint or weak. Better yet, find a cooler place or time of day to walk.

Picking a Plan

Each of our three fitness walking plans is designed with a specific person in mind:

  • If you're new to exercise, you'll want our First Steps plan.
  • Have you reached a "plateau" in your current walking plan? Try our Speed Circuit plan.
  • Walkers who are ready for a real challenge should try our Maximum Burn plan.

Common-Sense Precautions

For most folks, moderate exercise is safe. However, there are situations where exercise, even modest effort, can be dangerous. Here are some things to consider before and during your workouts:

If at any time you feel chest pain, experience severe muscular discomfort, feel faint, or are short of breath, stop exercising immediately. If the condition persists, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Do not begin this or any exercise program without first consulting a physician, especially if:

  • You have family history of heart disease
  • You're a female over 50 or a male over 40

Or if you possess two or more of the following risk factors:

  • You smoke
  • You are in the habit of eating high-fat foods
  • You currently do not exercise
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have higher than normal cholesterol levels
  • You experience shortness of breath during exercise
  • You have a chronic condition

First-Steps Plan

This program is designed to ease you into a regular walking routine. Start out slowly and you'll enjoy it more, build your confidence, and reduce your risk of injury. Even at a slow pace, you'll feel more energetic and be in a better mood.

This plan is for you if:

  • You currently walk less than 60-90 minutes per day on your job or in your everyday activities, such as walking to the bus or chasing after kids.
  • You are severely overweight and unfit.
  • You are recovering from an injury, illness, or surgery, or you currently have a chronic condition that limits activity.

Week 1

Duration: 10 minutes Frequency: 3 days Pace: Whatever is comfortable.

Week 2

Duration: 15 minutes Frequency: 4 days Pace: As if you are in a hurry; after walking for 10 minutes, you should have covered more distance than you did last week.

Week 3

Duration: 20 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace: As if you are in a hurry.

Week 4

Duration: 30 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace: As if you are in a hurry.

Pace Notes:

  • Maintain a comfortable pace at first; pushing too hard increases your odds of injury.
  • Your "hurry up" pace should have you breathing deeper than normal but should not leave you too breathless to carry on a conversation.
  • By week four, you should be covering 1-1/2 to 2 miles in 30 minutes.

Speed-Circuit Plan

Perhaps you have been walking for a while and the weight loss has stopped. Sometimes this is referred to as a "plateau." A simple change in your workout may be all you need. Programs such as this one for interval walking should help you bust out of the plateau and take off those stubborn pounds.

This plan is for you if:

  • You have not seen the scale go down in the past month.
  • You are bored with walking and find yourself making excuses to skip it.
  • You don't want to go to a health club or do "formal" exercise, but your daily routine is somewhat active.

Week 1

Duration: 30 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 2

Duration: 35 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 10 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 3

Duration: 45 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 8 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 7 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 4

Duration: 45 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Normal - 5 minutes; Speed - 5 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Pace Notes:

  • Warm-Up/Cool-Down: slow and easy pace.
  • Normal: comfortable, let's-get-going pace.
  • Speed: breathing hard, but not a breathless pace -- about 4 to 5 miles per hour.
  • After week 4, continue increasing the "speed" time and reducing the "normal" times.
  • In 8 to 12 weeks, you should be walking at the speed pace except for the warm-up and cool-down period.

Maximum-Burn Plan

This plan uses "interval training" to maximize your fitness level and burn calories fast. Interval training means you alternate easy and hard levels, changing your pace every 30 to 60 seconds. A plan like this one can be followed for a month every six months or so to improve the results of your regular walking plans.

This plan is for you if:

  • You think walking is too easy.
  • You want to lose weight fast.
  • You have been engaged in other high-intensity aerobic activity for at least 6 weeks.
  • You do not have time to take longer walks but want to burn more calories.

Week 1

Duration: 40 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Alternate Normal and Speed Pace every 30 seconds - 30 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 2

Duration: 45 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Alternate Normal and Speed Pace every 30 seconds - 35 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 3

Duration: 50 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Alternate Normal and Speed Pace every 20 seconds - 40 minutes; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Week 4

Duration: 60 minutes Frequency: 5 days Pace-Duration: Warm Up - 5 minutes; Alternate Normal and Speed Pace every 30 seconds; Cool Down - 5 minutes.

Pace Notes:

  • Warm-Up/Cool-Down: slow and easy pace.
  • Normal: comfortable, let's-get-going pace.
  • Speed: breathing hard, but not a breathless pace -- about 4 to 6 miles per hour.
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