Becoming a fitness walker can be fun. Here's how to do it
The greatest number of walkers walk just to walk, suggests Mark Fenton, editor-at-large for Walking magazine. "They like being outdoors," he says. "They like getting some exercise and improving their health. At the other end of the scale are racewalkers, those hip-swinging, elbow-pumping, glory-seeking individuals who have as a goal a place on the Olympic team, or at least a medal at their local walking race.
Fenton believes, however, that an additional class of walkers exists between these two extremes. These are the individuals who seek not merely health benefits but also physical fitness. They dress like athletes, not like someone out for a stroll. They walk tall, eyes forward. They take quick steps. They push off on their toes. Whether or not they swing their hips, many bend their arms and look (somewhat) like racewalkers. They probably don't compete, but walking to them is a way of life, a discipline to be pursued with some vigor--and enjoyment.
They have been described by various reporters as aerobic walkers, striders, and power walkers. Fenton prefers to use the term fitness walkers. He even incorporated that label into the title of a book he wrote with fellow Walking editor Seth Bauer, The 90-Day Fitness Walking Program.
"You'll get some health benefits by going out and walking at any pace, any distance, whenever you can catch time away from your work or other duties," Fenton says. "But all the scientific research proves rather conclusively that you can attain a much higher level of conditioning and well-being if you actually train to improve your aerobic fitness. Every tenth of a liter of aerobic capacity that you can cram into your body by walking farther and faster is going to increase your health and longevity as well.
Fenton believes one thing that separates fitness walkers from ordinary walkers (other than walking tall and bending the arms) is cadence: taking quicker steps. "Not shorter steps, but quicker steps," he says. "It's natural for your stride to lengthen a bit as you speed up, but frequency is important, too, although it's overlooked by most walkers."
Fenton preaches consistency over speed. "In seeking consistency," he says, "it is most important that walking becomes a regular habit, not something you do on the weekends or when the weather is good. The fitness walker must make a positive commitment to exercise a certain number of days a week over a specific distance or length of time, even if some of those days show fairly modest efforts." He suggests that easier days can be used when other duties demand your time.
Once you have become accustomed to a regular pattern of workouts (as opposed to merely walks), you can achieve a higher level of physical fitness not merely by increasing the distance of the workouts but also by varying the distance from day to day. "You don't always need to walk the same course or the same distance," Fenton says. "Perhaps once or twice a week, set aside time for slightly longer walks, or much longer ones on the weekends." If your goal is losing weight, the more you walk the more calories you'll burn. Walking, like running, burns approximately 100 calories for every mile covered.
One way to ensure success is to build some competition into your fastest walks. Or train for a "running" race where you start in the back and don't worry about your time compared to those around you. "You don't need to try to win," Fenton advises. "Merely being part of a racing environment with large numbers of other fitness-minded individuals will guarantee that you get a good workout." Most runners consider walkers their equals, regardless of when they cross the finish line.
Adapted from Hal Higdon's How To Train, available from him at Books by Hal Higdon.
- Walking schedule for the 5-K
- Walking schedule for the 10-K
- Walking schedule for the Half Marathon