fitness

Six easy ways to turn a standard walk into a harder workout.

Image: iStock.

Walking is my favourite way to exercise. I love that it’s free, doesn’t require any fancy gear and you can do it just about anywhere. Also, it’s pretty democratic — you don’t need a great deal of flexibility or even coordination to pull it off — and it’s a great stress-slayer.

The thing is, walking tends to be a little low-impact, especially if you get a bit distracted or lazy and allow them to turn into leisurely strolls.  Don’t get me wrong, strolling is great — but it certainly doesn’t produce as many aerobic benefits as a brisker walk.

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So if you’re using walking as a way to stay fit and burn calories, you’re going to have to make it work harder. In happier news, this is actually quite easy to achieve — give one of these six trainer-approved tricks a try:

1. Get elevated

Look for stairs.

The easiest way to turn a gentle walk into a tougher workout? In the words of U2, e-le-va-tiiiion is your friend.

Neil Russell, exercise physiologist and VIP trainer at Atleta, recommends looking out for hills and stairs — not just picking a flat, easy route — and incorporating them into your walk to get your heart rate up. "You're not increasing impact with the ground, but you're definitely upping intensity," he explains.

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If you're fit and healthy and capable of doing a hill sprint, go for it; Russell says this can work as a form of interval training. But if you're not up for breaking into a run, you don't have to.

"If you're someone who just goes for walks and you're looking to make the most out of it, do, say, five times up and down those stairs or that hill, then go back to your walk. Then you're throwing a little interval session into your low-intensity walk," he explains. Even powering up a big set of stairs two at a time will get your heart rate up. (Post continues after gallery.)

The benefits of this approach are twofold. "When you're doing it your heart rate's significantly increased, you're going to be working the muscles slightly differently; but also for the next 15 minutes of your walk you're recovering, so you're working at a higher intensity to recover and walk," Russell explains.

"If you were just to walk and then go home and sit down, all your levels would come back to resting immediately, whereas if you did interval training then it'd take 30 odd minutes or a lot longer to get your metabolism back to a rest or a basic state."

2. Add bodyweight exercises

Get your lunge on.

Walking can be a great cardio workout, but it doesn't offer a lot in the way of resistance training. Russell says there's an easy solution to this: add some exercises that incorporate your body weight.

"Throw in some basic exercises that require minimal equipment, like resistance-style exercises — squats, lunges, bench dips. If you're in a park and you don't mind laying in the grass, do crunches, a plank or some push ups or knee push ups," he says. You could even submit yourself to burpees if you're a masochist into that.

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If you've never done these kinds of exercises before, you can find some decent guidance online. Russell recommends searching for a list of the best bodyweight exercises, then looking up the perfect technique for your chosen moves on Youtube. Of course, if you have any injuries it would be wise to seek professional advice before you get your lunge/squat/burpee on. (Post continues after gallery.)

3. Find outdoor equipment

You know that outdoor fitness equipment you see in some parks and public spaces? It's there for you to use, and it's free. So why not break for your walk and have a go on it for five to 10 minutes?

"Lots of places where people like to go for a walk have outdoor-style exercise equipment, and a lot of them a pretty friendly — it's not just bars you hang off and do chin ups," Russell says.

"Plan your walk near outdoor gyms so you can just throw in some exercises. Your heart rate, your metabolism will all be elevated [post-walk] for half an hour or half a day, depending on what you've done."

4. Up the pace

Look, I know it's fun to organise "a walk" with your pals under the guise of fitness, but let's be honest — it's usually an excuse to gossip. That's fine... unless you're hoping to burn some calories while you're at it. You knew that deep down, right?

"If you can walk and still talk to the person you're with, or you naturally think you can talk easily, then you're not walking fast enough," says personal trainer and former ironman Guy Leech.

RELATED: 25 telltale signs you're a fast walker.

"So I do the 'Talk Test' — if you find that you would struggle to get more than a couple of words out before you needed to take a breath, then obviously you're working at a rate that's better for you from the point of view of actually getting fitter and healthier and burning calories."

Leech says this is a helpful measure of pace because it's not overly sciencey and you don't have to go to the effort of actually measuring your heart rate. Maybe save the gas-bagging for your Friday gin session.

5. Add bursts of jogging

How to turn a run into a workout
However you pronounce it, jogging will increase your intensity. (Image: Anchorman)
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If you're an experienced walker and you feel physically ready, it might be time to up the ante by throwing in a little bit of jogging (you know, running's less intimidating sister).

It doesn't have to be kilometres' worth, but Russell says even short bursts will increase the intensity of your workout and use different muscles in your body.

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"Pick points to jog to. So if it's a park, when you get to it run a lap of the park and go back to walking; or it can be running the length of a particular block, or so many blocks, just so there's at least one high-intensity period within your walk," he recommends.

6. Choose a scenic route

Location makes all the difference.

"Choose a location where it's inspiring or you get a sensation of wellbeing," Russell says.

"So if you've got the option of walking around your block at home which isn't that great, or a 10 minute drive down to the beach or to a park or a lake or river and going for a walk somewhere where there's some scenery, you're going to be more likely to enjoy the routine of doing that."

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Although walking is a good way to stay active — and an excellent starting point if you're going from no exercise at all — ultimately your fitness routine should be a little more varied, incorporating different forms of exercise.

"I think everyone, as a minimum, should be trying to do two days of resistant training — that can be just basic bodyweight exercises, it can be at the gym or at home or outdoor group training. It's better for heart health, bone health, increasing metabolism, increasing strength, decreasing risk of injuries," Russell says.

"Also, I think it's great for people to be incorporating flexibility training, something that's often ignored unless people go to yoga."

Are you a walking fan? How do you get more out of your walk?

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