When it comes to walking, there’s one thing we just have to get out of the way: As much as some would like to think that it’s a, well, walk in the park, hitting the treadmill for some low-impact cardio is anything but. Sure, it’s easy to slack off when the belt under your feet slogs along, but that’s true of any cardio machine and any type of workout. (Have you seen us bust those elliptical-is-easy myths?) The right routine is your ticket to a more effective gym sesh.
Now Walk It Out: The Benefits of Power Walking
“Power walking on a treadmill at a fast pace, while pumping your arms front to back, creates a full-body workout — you’ll engage muscles throughout your upper body, lower body, and core,” says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and chief fitness officer for Motion Traxx, a top-rated cardio app. Translation: It’s 100 percent possible to get tighter abs and a more sculpted butt when you take it one step at a time.
But why not just run instead? “There are significant benefits to both high-intensity and low-intensity cardiovascular exercise,” says Holland, explaining a mix of both is ideal. “Having that variation is where you’ll reap the most long-term benefits for your health.” Walking can help tone muscles, lower high cholesterol and blood sugar, and improve metabolism, he says. Plus, sometimes your body just needs a break from the impact of running.
And don’t forget: Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise across age groups for good reason. “Almost everyone can do it, it’s inexpensive, and it improves your heart health, mood, circulation, bone density and more,” says Holland. In fact, the Surgeon General recommends getting in 30 minutes of walking per day, as it can help reduce and treat chronic illnesses (like high blood pressure and diabetes) that affect about half of all adult Americans.
3 Power Walking Treadmill Workouts
Need a break from your typical treadmill routine but still want to squeeze in a bit of cardio? Try one of these routines designed by Holland. Whether you’ve got 15, 20 or 30 minutes to spare, these walking workouts will leave you sweat-ily surprised.
The “Perfect Five” 15-Minute Walking Workout
Advanced runners commonly perform tempo runs, but you don’t have to be a hardcore athlete to use tempo training at the gym. “Targeting a portion of your workout to walking at a specific pace — one that’s faster than what’s ‘comfortable’ — for a certain amount of time will strengthen your heart and boost endurance,” says Holland. Keep your incline at 0.5, since some treadmills are at a slight decline when they’re set to zero. This will ensure you are simulating what you’d experience if you went for a walk outdoors.
The “20 Minutes of Hills” Walking Workout
Variety is the spice of life, and the key to better workouts. “The body is a very smart machine, adapting quickly to stressors like exercise,” says Holland, and mixing up your routine “will keep your body ‘guessing’ and prevent plateauing.” Playing with your incline is a good way to upgrade your average walk. Adding in some hills will not only target your hamstrings and butt, but it’ll also help stave off boredom. For this workout, set your incline at zero for your “flat” portions. Holland says that many treadmills are actually at a slight decline then, so you’ll better replicate walking slightly downhill. Plus, “it will allow for a better recovery,” he says. (Don’t worry — you’ll earn it.)
The “Speedy Seven” 30-Minute Walking Workout
Rather than walking at a steady, predictable pace for your entire workout, Holland suggests stepping up your speed from time to time. “It’ll ramp up your overall calorie burn, and help with muscle toning,” he says. As for your incline, set it to 1.0, which will increase your intensity ever-so-slightly — making your body work harder without really making it feel more difficult, while boosting your calorie burn.