We all know that doing regular exercise is enormously beneficial for our health and wellbeing, but it can sometimes be a challenge to find a form of exercise that we really enjoy, and feel motivated to do regularly. If you’re looking to get your heart rate up, but don’t want to do something as strenuous as running, then you might be interested in trying power walking. Not only does power walking have huge health benefits, but it’s also free, accessible, and can be great fun. Whether you’re looking to work on your fitness, get some fresh air, or simply clear your head, power walking can be a great place to start. Here we explain why power walking is so good for you, and offer tips on how to get started.
What is power walking?
First things first – what actually is power walking and how does it differ from …walking? Power walking is an aerobic walking exercise that focuses on speed and arm motion. Unlike normal walking, you need to be going at a brisk pace and using a specific technique. A gentle jogging pace starts around 5mph, so a power walking pace is generally between 4mph to 5mph – although, if you’re new to power walking, you might want to start at a slower pace.
Even though power walking is a gentler form of exercise, it’s considered to be just as beneficial for your health as running. It gets your blood pumping and can burn just as many calories. The key difference is that power walking is a low-impact exercise and places far less pressure on your joints, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. Plus, because it’s less intense than something like running, and you don’t get as out of breath, it’s a great activity to do with a friend while enjoying a catch up (socially distanced, of course).
The benefits of power walking
Because walking is so simple, its benefits sometimes aren’t fully appreciated. Even walking for five or ten minutes at a time has powerful benefits – and research suggests that every hour you spend walking can add two hours to your life. So what are some of the proven benefits of power walking?
- Help you lose weight, especially around your stomach area.
- Reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Lower the risk for several types of cancer.
- Improve bone health. One recent study found that an hour of power walking a day improves joint problems, and another study found that power walking four hours a week reduces the risk of hip fracture by 41%.
- Improve mental functioning, memory, and decision-making skills.
- Improve anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.
Power walking technique explained
If you want to give power walking a try, then it can help to have a good idea about what sort of technique to use before you set off. Your technique is something that can be practiced and developed over time, so try not to worry too much about getting it perfect to start with.
Warm up. You might not be running at full speed, but warming up your muscles beforehand reduces your risk of getting injured. Walking at a normal pace for around ten minutes acts as a suitable warm up.
Watch your posture. A common mistake people make when power walking is slumping forward. This can slow you down and make it harder to take big breaths. Maintaining an upright posture and standing tall allows you to walk fast and helps protect you from injury. Pull your stomach in to engage your core, relax your shoulder, and keep your head upright and your eyes forward.
Take normal strides. Try not to lengthen your stride as you quicken your pace, as this makes your technique less effective. With each step, land on your heel and roll your foot towards your toes to propel you forward. It helps to squeeze your glutes while you walk, too, as this puts a spring in your step and forces your muscles to work harder.
Relax your hips. Try to move them forward rather than side to side, as this improves flexibility in the hips and helps you quicken your pace without straining your lower back.
Keep your arms active. Swinging them with purpose activates your muscles and helps you move faster. Bend each elbow at about a 90 degree angle, form your hands into relaxed fists (as if you’re holding a fragile bird in them), and swing your arms as you walk. As you get more comfortable and confident with power walking, you can even hold some small weights as you walk, to help you build your upper body strength at the same time.
Take the talk test. Just because you’re not running doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working up a sweat. A good way to figure out if you’re going at the right intensity is to see how easy talking is for you. You should be able to talk, but not to sing!
For more information on how to improve your power walking technique, you might want to have a watch of this video.
How to begin power walking
So you’ve practiced your power walking technique, and are ready to set off. But how long should you walk for – and how often should you do it?
Length and distance of power walking
As with all forms of exercise, it’s important not to overdo it- especially right at the start. Even though you’re walking and not running, you might find that your hips, back and legs are more sore than you expect them to be the first few times you try power walking, so it’s best to start off slowly and increase your distance over time.
For your first week of power walking, you might want to start off by walking for 15 minutes at a time for five days a week and taking two rest days, spread out over the week. Aiming to do 60 to 75 minutes of power walking a week is a good place to start. Then for the second week, you could try walking for 20 minutes, five days a week (around 75 to 100 minutes of power walking a week) and for the third week, you could have a go at doing 25 minutes, five days a week (100 to 125 minutes). In your fourth week, you could walk for half an hour, five days a week. The beauty of increasing the time spent walking is that it allows you to open up new and interesting routes to try each time.
Of course, this is only a guide – everyone has different fitness levels and abilities, so it’s important to take it at a pace that feels right for you. If you already consider yourself to be quite physically fit, then you might want to walk for longer to start with, and equally, if you’re finding it hard to power walk for a certain length of time, you can take it slower. Avoid adding more time to your walks if you’re struggling – just repeat that week again, until you feel comfortable taking the next step.
Once you can power walk for half an hour at a time, you might want to challenge yourself further. Aside from using weights or including other exercises in your power walk, you could try introducing intervals into your walks. Intervals are great for both endurance and weight loss, so you could try walking faster for a minute every three or five minutes. Just remember to warm down before finishing your walk, and stretch out your hamstrings, calves, chest, shoulders, and back. You can watch a video on how to stretch after walking below.
4 power walking tips
1. Wear comfortable clothing
You don’t need any fancy equipment to power walk, but you do need to wear comfortable clothing and the right shoes. Because they’re often thicker at the heel, running shoes aren’t best suited for power walking. When you’re power walking, you’re rolling your weight from the heel of your foot along to your toes, a motion that’s very different from a running stride. This means you need to have good arch support and a flat sole. When lockdown ends, you could visit your local sports shop and ask to try some walking trainers, or alternatively you could buy some online. Amazon has a good selection, or you can check out this article from Runners World on the recommended walking trainers and where to buy them.
2. Make yourself visible to road users
It’s also important to make sure you’re visible to road users, particularly as winter draws in and it gets dark early. Walk on the pavement, and if you’re power walking when it’s dark, it’s vital to wear reflective clothing or bring a torch. And if you’re out after dark, keep an eye out for tree roots or uneven paths and pavements when you’re walking, to avoid tripping.
3. Explore ways to make power walking more fun
You can make power walking more fun by walking with a friend or family member – plus, power walking with someone else is a great way to hold yourself accountable. If you have a park near you, or any stretch of green space, try power walking there. Being among trees and greenery is enormously beneficial for improving mood and mental health. If you don’t have a friend to go with, you could listen to music or a podcast while you power walk, too – though make sure you can still hear cars and traffic!
4. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself when you’re ready
As you get the hang of power walking and your fitness improves, you might want to intensify your exercise. The great thing about power walking is its versatility, and there are lots of ways you can push yourself a bit harder. You could walk while holding hand weights to work your upper body, or, if you want to work your lower body, you could wear ankle weights on each leg. If you’re just starting out, one to two pound ankle weights are best. Amazon has a good selection of weights for walking, as does Argos.
Alternatively, you could add other exercises into your power walk. Halfway through each walk you could stop to do some star jumps, for example, or do a set of dips on a park bench. Walking uphill is another way to make power walking more challenging and strengthen your legs – as is walking on sand or grass. This is also a good way to burn more calories!
Power walking is a great way to get fit, lower your risk of disease, strengthen your muscles, and give your overall physical and mental health a real boost. Though it’s a low-impact exercise, it’s still important to take power walking slowly, go at your own pace, and wear the right shoes. Part of the beauty of power walking is its accessibility and versatility: you can walk on the pavement or in parks, solo or with a friend – or even in a walking group, once lockdown ends. You can walk in the mornings or evenings, listen to music, focus on your surroundings, incorporate weights or intervals, or just take it slowly. However you decide to power walk, it won’t be long before you see an improvement in your overall health and wellbeing, and you’ll hopefully find that this is an exercise that’s just as enjoyable as it is beneficial.