By Sophie Keough
Bummer. A few years back a large research survey called the National Runners and Walkers Health Study made national headlines by declaring "greater weight loss from running than walking." The survey of 15,237 walkers and 32,215 runners found that over a six-year period runners maintained their weight better than the walkers.
But what if you don’t like to run? What if you are carrying around extra weight and the constant pavement pounding would wreak havoc on your knees?
A study at Duke University School of Medicine and researchers who have compared walking with running suggest that both can burn the equivalent number of calories but walking will simply take longer. In the Duke study 120 overweight men and women were randomly assigned to workout on stationary exercise machines at the equivalent intensity of either walking or jogging 11 miles a week. At the end of the experiment, both groups lost the same amount of weight. Obviously, it took the walkers longer to log that distance.
Running is more efficient because it fuels your metabolic fire with more calories faster than walking. So, to make walking a more effective for weight loss you have two options: walk longer distances or increase intensity.
"If you want to boost your metabolism and lose weight the best way to do it is to waste as much fuel as possible," says Tim Coyle, M.S., an exercise physiologist at ComiteMD in New York City.
The easiest way to get better results in less time is through High-Intensity Interval Training or "HIIT" for short. It’s not as intimidating as is sounds and it can easily be done with a walking workout. Interval training is nothing more than alternating short bursts of faster, more intense physical activity with bouts of slower, less intense "recovery" periods.
Coyle offers this analogy: "Think of a car in the city versus one cruising the highway. Steady-speed highway driving is as fuel-efficient as you can get. City driving always burns more gas because you’re are quickly accelerating and then braking at every red light. Stop/start driving is like interval training, and it takes more energy—or in the case of your body—calories."
Here’s proof it works: A Danish study reported in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes Care put two groups of people with type 2 diabetes on a walking program; one group walked at a steady speed while the other group varied their walking speed. After four months, the interval-training group lost 8 more pounds than the steady walkers. What's more, only the walkers who changed up their speeds lost visceral fat and improved their blood sugar control.
Give a high intensity interval training walking workout a tryout. Start each session with a three-minute warm up of steady walking at a moderate pace. Wear a watch or set your smart phone’s timer to alert you when interval times are up. Do interval walks three or four times a week, for example Monday / Wednesday / Friday, leaving a day in between to rest or walk at a continuous pace. Here’s a simple plan:
A Walking HIIT Workout for Beginners
After a warm up, speed up, walking as fast as you comfortably can for 1 minute. Slow down if you are too winded to carry on a conversation of short sentences. Speed up if you are not breathing hard enough. Bend your arms and swing them to get your upper body in play. Doing so will also move your legs faster. After a minute, slow to a moderate “recovery” pace for 3 minutes. Repeat the sequence four more times for a 20-minute HIIT walk.
This week do your speed- walk intervals for 1 minute but cut your moderate- paced intervals to 2 minutes. (If this is too fast for you, go back to the week one plan until you build up your endurance.) Repeat the 1-minute fast – 2-minute moderate intervals six more times for a 21-minute workout. Remember, on alternate days you can rest or do a steady-pace walk.
After your easy-pace warm up, do a 1-minute interval as fast as you can while still being able to speak in short sentences, followed by a 1-minute moderate-pace recovery interval. Continue alternating this way for a total of 10 pairs, which will take you 20 minutes.
After your easy-pace warm up, do a 1-minute speed interval followed by a 1-minute slow-to moderate-pace interval. Continue alternating this way and see if you can do this one-to-one HIIT workout for a full 30 minutes. If it becomes too hard, lengthen your recovery intervals to 2 or 3 minutes.
To progress in future weeks, try reducing the length of your speed and recover paces to 40 seconds, 30, and even 20 seconds. Or add in some bodyweight exercises like jumping jacks, pushups or squats halfway through your interval walk. Or increase the total length of your interval walks. Shaking up your workouts will keep your muscles challenged and help you burn even more calories.
Another way to increase the metabolic intensity of a walking workout and shorten workout time is to make walking harder. Do that with a stair-climbing interval workout. Use the stadium bleachers of a local athletic field or your workplace stairs. Staircases have roughly a 65 percent grade, which will force you to exert much more leg strength to lift your bodyweight. It’s actually a safer movement than running, which adds a shearing force to the knee, says Coyle. "Your body prefers to move up and down; it’s a more natural movement for your hip and knee joints."
Walk up the stairs (at least 10 stairs) quickly but in control and walk down at a moderate pace, and repeat. To progress, try taking every other stair step going up. It’s an explosive movement that generates a lot of leg power.
"Stair climbing builds your glutes and calls into play lots of stabilizer muscles because you’re stressing and balancing on one leg as you lift your other leg to the next step," says Coyle. "And all of this drives your heart rate up quickly; it’s a great way to get effective exercise in a short time period."