the joy of strength training


September 26th, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Benefits of walking

I used to be a real snob about walking for weight loss, but I have recently been turned around on this issue.

My turn-around is mainly thanks to real life, known-to-me examples of people who have lost significant amounts of weight through walking. Just walking, not even dietary changes.

They simply walked for an hour (at least) a day, incorporating this walk into their daily life, i.e. walking to a destination instead of using public transport.

Well, duh, you might be thinking. Why was this such a revelation to me? Because I had bought into the idea that in order to get into shape you had to do lots of high intensity exercise, get yourself a personal trainer or at the very least join a class to push you to your limits!

Living in the fast lane

In recent years, society (at least here in the UK) has been cash rich, time poor and obsessed with shiny things. So industry and advertising has followed suit. All the fitness magazines are about how quickly you can get things done: achieve an amazing body in five minutes a day, get fit on ten minutes a day, use this shiny machine to halve your workout. It’s all about saving your precious time.

There’s no better example of this obsession than the tabata fad (typical headline: get fit in four minutes), which Graeme Marsh does a great job of analysing here.

Some fitness professionals would have us believe that the more money you pay and the less time you spend working out, the better your results will be. Funny, that.

But perhaps some of us have, or wish we had a more relaxed attitude to life. Why must we be obsessed with getting the maximum amount done in the minimum amount of time? What’s so great about that, other than bragging rights on the Men’s Health forum?

The ‘slow’ movement

Walking briskly for an hour burns the same number of calories as jogging for 30 minutes.

It seems counter intuitive, especially to people who find running difficult. But it’s true; although running burns more calories than walking, the difference is smaller than you think.

I know many people who would take the walking option every time. It is easier on the joints, easy to incorporate into daily life and there’s no lycra involved.

Shiny thing make it all better

There are some people who find it impossible to exercise unless they are surrounded by shiny machines, TV screens and ipods. Somehow the gadgetry makes it legitimate, acceptable, worth the time and energy.

But we have forgotten just how much exercise and calorie burn we can notch up in a single day just by taking the stairs or walking to our destination.

I know I sound like a government information campaign, but leading a more active life is not just for the unfit and overweight, it’s for everyone.

You might do 20 minutes of interval training three times a week in the gym, and that’s great as far as it goes. But what do you do for the other 167 hours in the week?

How much time do you spend sitting down? How’s your posture these days – got any lower back pain? Did you dash through the barriers on the Tube this morning, or did you wait and help the mum get her buggy down the stairs?

The drive to get everything done as quickly as possible, including exercise, means you might actually be missing out on a load of good stuff, including using your strength and fitness to make someone else’s day a bit easier.

It doesn’t always have to be hard

It is easy to fall into the trap of ‘if it’s not tough, it’s not doing me any good’. Lord knows, we are told this often enough by exercise gurus who are obsessed with getting “fast results”. Moderate exercise is no longer relevant; everything must be done as quickly as possible.

Folks, this isn’t the case. Walking is a great example of an exercise and a movement that is easy, fun, relaxing and good for you.

I have a fairly tough weightlifting schedule and on recovery/active rest days I don’t really want to do a high impact activity like running, but I also don’t want to sit around all day getting stiff.

Walking therefore suits me well, and not just on days off. It loosens me up, gets blood moving round my system to aid recovery, raises my heart rate and burns calories.

The mental benefits are also brilliant. It gets me away from the ubiquitous digital environment, allows me to de-stress, think problems through, or just enjoy being in some green space. It also gets me from A to B in a zero carbon way (well, apart from the CO2 I’m breathing out).

There’s no one way to train and everyone is different, with unique motivations and various goals. You can say what you like about my friends (they should have done this, that or the other) but they wanted to lose weight, they took up walking and they lost weight. A job well done.

I am walking a lot more these days, for recovery, relief from bad postural positions, some extra calorie burn and an enriched daily life.

Walking may not be shiny, fast-paced or over in twenty seconds but it certainly has its place in the exercise arsenal.

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  • 1

    7 or 8 years ago, I began to lose weight by walking, using a pedometer and increasing the amount of hiking in the mountains which we were doing. Then I gradually built up my fitness and began to exercise more and more intensively – through spin and light weights to circuit training, running and heavy weights. But I had been a couch potato for a long time.

    I think it depends on your baseline level of fitness. I think a good message for anyone wanting to get fitter and lose some weight is ‘move a little more and eat a little less’. Small changes are easier for people to sustain long-term and can be built on in time as they become normal and easier for that person.

    I think this is an important message for trainers, healthcare professionals etc to remember. If people who are unfit jump in and try to train at too intensive a level too soon, they will generally just give up and end up back at square one.

    Now I am fit, I could never manage to lose weight by walking. But I’m not complaining!

    Louisa on September 26th, 2010
  • 2

    Why couldn’t you lose weight by walking?

    According to the chart in this article, if I went for an hour’s walk tomorrow at 3.5 mph (brisk but not fast), I’d burn around 255 calories. That’s equivalent to half a pound of fat a week.

    The other advantage of walking is that it doesn’t make you as hungry as running does, nor does the body crave the replacement of sugars in the same way.

    gubernatrix on September 26th, 2010
  • 3

    I think walking should supplement everyone’s training.

    I personally find it soothing for my mind and it really detaches me from being busy and getting stuck in a hectic life.

    Nothing beats strolling around with some fresh air through a calm quiet environment.

    Niel on September 27th, 2010
  • 4

    I’ve been very dedicated to strength-training and high-intensity training for a big part of my life. I remember avoiding long runs, looking down on multi-hour bike-rides and not looking down on any “non-hardcore” exercise. How wrong I was.

    I think the problem is that much of the activities are viewed not as valuable/enjoyable in themselves, but as a way to achieve something else. Walking has been a part of living for a long time and few things are more pleasant than a good, day-long hike in nature.

    I like the idea that the frequency of activity should be inversely proportional to its intensity. Most of the time (daily) – low intensity (walking). Sometimes (3-5x/week) – medium intensity (running, biking, games, etc). High-intensity (sprinting, weights) – 1-3 times a week. This is prescription for great well-being – not top performance.

    Sasha on September 27th, 2010
  • 5

    Sasha, that’s a great way to think about it.

    gubernatrix on September 27th, 2010
  • 6

    I think people usually look for a discrete fix to add to an unhealthy lifestyle, and walking actually helps _change_ the lifestyle. Sure, there’s calories burned, low-impact weight-bearing movement, etc, but just walking outdoors has much more than a physical effect.

    Now I have to confess that I sprint on my bicycle most places, and hardly ever walk, so I should follow your good advice and get moving.

    Steven Rice Fitness on September 27th, 2010
  • 7

    I don’t know why, but I still struggle to keep my weight down Sally. And that’s with running and weight training for, on average, 10 hours a week. Maybe because I trashed my metabolism crash dieting in the past. My body just seems to have become more and more efficient at managing on fewer calories. And my diet is generally good, apart from red wine 🙂 I’m pretty sure if I was simply walking for exercise my weight would increase again. Maybe I just eat too much, even if it is healthy stuff!

    Louisa on September 27th, 2010
  • 8

    Ah well I wasn’t suggesting that people *only* walk (unless they’ve done nothing before, like my two friends), just that it’s good to incorporate into the routine. I do it alongside weight training of course.

    Interesting what you say about your weight. Have you tried experimenting with different types of foods/diets? For example, some people swear by cutting out starchy carbs or wheat and gluten or whatever. I used to be a believer in ‘a calorie is a calorie’ – and while that can be true for a lot of people at certain stages, I now think that some calories are better than others and it’s not as simple as ‘calories in, calories out’! But I think it differs from person to person.

    Anyway, something to think about. I’m just speaking anecdotally, don’t take this as offical nutritional advice!

    gubernatrix on September 27th, 2010
  • 9

    […] Take a Walk […]

  • 10

    I subscribe to the notion that the human body is made for two, basic movements: brief, intense movements (strength training)and long and easy movments (walking).

    We’re not designed and built for the middle road of the two (jogging, marathoning, etc).

    Justin_P on September 28th, 2010
  • 11

    Thanks for the advice Sally. I definitely find that I put weight on when I eat carbs. Unfortunately they’re what I enjoy! I’m not actually trying to lose weight anymore, except when I put weight on on holiday. These days I keep my weight fairly stable by eating a healthy balanced diet. I do eat more carbs and drink more alcohol at weekends and do tend to put a little weight on. I also train less at weekends, although we’re still active. Then I train hard for about 10hrs through the week and lose the couple of pound that I’ve put on over the weekend.

    Re walking, this has always been our main hobby. My hubby and I love hiking in the mountains, which burns even more calories. I also try to walk whenever I can, rather than driving, using the lift etc. Unfortunately I have a very sedentary job now. But every little helps.

    Louisa on September 29th, 2010
  • 12

    I think walking is one of the best recovery exercises we can do. It increases blood flow without incurring any additional tissue damage.

    And recent studies have shown that it’s the small throughout the day movements (standing instead of sitting, walking short distances, etc.) that make the biggest difference in both weight loss/maintainence and overall health.

    deb roby on September 29th, 2010
  • 13

    I just moved to the UK (from Toronto) for school. I would consider myself a pretty fit person who runs, spins, lifts heavy weights– but I’m not an avid walker as public transit makes the world go ’round in Toronto. I’m trying to save a few pounds by cutting out public transit from my daily routine. Walking up all the hills in Sheffield to get to campus and back home has whipped me into a new kind of shape in the past few weeks; and I’ve noticed that I’ve become leaner. It’s like magic.

    Sure taught me that walking is legitimate exercise! I’ll never make a snobby joke about walkers again.

    teesha on October 4th, 2010
  • 14

    Good to hear, teesha! And I hope you enjoy Sheffield, you have the Peak District right on your doorstep.

    I actually overdid it yesterday – went for a walk for just over an hour and really felt it in my legs for today’s training. Must be more careful!

    gubernatrix on October 4th, 2010
  • 15

    I always loved walking, even at my fattest and least fit. Nothing better to get my thoughts in order and have ideas. I can walk to work (it’s half an hour), and when the weather is too bad for bicycling, I walk. (When the weather is good enough, sleeping for 20 more minutes wins out.)

    What I could never understand was how I could hill-walk for six hours and feel only comfortably tired, yet be a wheezing wreck after a three-minute jog.

    inge on October 8th, 2010
  • 16

    Funny, isn’t it! But the body adapts specifically, to the specific demands placed on it.

    gubernatrix on October 9th, 2010
  • 17

    The thing with walking is that unless you find scenic places to walk in it gets very boring and it is very time-consuming.
    Also for flat footed people walking for long gets painful.Walking is great for de-stressing though.I make it my NEPA trying to cram it in the daily routine,.

    varsha on October 11th, 2010
  • 18

    There is another benefit to circuit training, and other high intensity workouts… the Post Burn effect. While walking an hour burns and many calories as jogging for a half hour, the higher your workout intensity, the more calories are burned after your body works out, even while you sleep. Plus, while running may be harder on the joints, it does increase the strength of your bones. I’m not saying walking is a bad idea, i’m simpling stating that there are reasons that high intensity workouts lead to faster and better results.

    Nick B on July 23rd, 2012
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