Heard hiking’s good for you but think it’s missing the wow factor? Here’s how to add fat-burning oomph to your walks.
WORDS: Sarah Ivory
Walking has a bad rep – it’s often seen as an easy, gentle and lightweight activity – something to do when you’re older. Some folk even refer to it as a stroll (the word rolls off the tongue so lazily!), as if walking were the most effortless activity on the planet. It needn’t be that way. If you think walking’s a bit ho-hum, forget strolling or aimlessly wandering around the shops like a lost child and go for a hike. This word is full of grit and gusto, which is what’s needed to turn up the sweat factor
of a walk. When it’s done correctly, research shows that walking can blast away as much fat as running – and keep it off. Plus, it’s easier on the joints to boot! You’ve just got to have a more athletic style and speed. Head to the mountains, parks or trails to power up the hills and stride out
over flat ground. It’s more intense and the payoff is huge – you’ll burn oodles of calories and your lower body will have a toning workout. How effortless does walking sound now?
Science supports walking as a fat-frying workout. A bank of research confirms hiking uses the same muscle groups as running and boasts the same health benefits, which includes a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. One study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US even claims that a brisk walk provides bigger heart benefits than going for a jog,
reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by 9.3 per cent among walkers, compared to 4.5 per cent among runners. As a bonus, walking is far better for the limbs – one foot is always on the ground, which reduces force through the bones and joints compared to running. Walking even boosts brain power, upping creative output by a whopping 60 per cent. Wow. Even if you’re aiming to perform in another sport, studies confirm that walking is still a useful tool. Long walks are a great way of building the endurance and lower-limb strength needed for high-mileage activities such as marathons or century rides. Steady-state hikes are the perfect form of active recovery to do the day after a tough sweat session, boosting blood flow around the body and flushing lactic acid out of tired muscles. And power walking provides a popular stepping stone for those new to running, without all of the weight-bearing pain and discomfort of going for a jog. Now for the nitty gritty – can you lose
weight by walking? Definitely. Experts confirm that power walking at four miles per hour will blast at at a rate of around 320 calories per hour. Scientists at the University of Colorado even discovered that a leisurely walk at two miles per hour can help exercisers drop pounds. But the real fat-blasting benefits of walking happen when you up the pace. Researchers from the University of Virginia in America report that women who did three short but fast-paced walks a week (plus two long but steady ones) lost five times the amount of belly fat of those who strolled at a comfy speed five times per week. Even though both groups lost around 400 calories per workout, the power walkers won the slim-down stakes with an impressive loss of eight pounds over six weeks. How do you make this information work for you? Crank up the intensity of your next hike.
H&F ACTION PLAN
1 FIX YOUR FORM
Walking may be one of the most natural movements, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it wrong. Good form is the key to walking faster for longer, so hone your technique. Stand tall, gently engage your abs and focus on pumping your arms to encourage a speedy leg turnover. To burn more calories with every session, take short, fast steps, rolling through the whole of your foot (from heel to toe) and pushing off from your toes. A good trick is to improve you cadence (leg speed) with a pedometer or activity tracker by timing how long it takes you to walk 100 steps and then attempting to beat your time over the next 100 steps.
TREADMILL POWER WALK
WARM UP 5 minutes Walk at a gentle pace to get your body ready.
MAIN SET 10 minutes 10 x 1-minute blocks, increasing the gradient and speed every minute.
COOL DOWN 5 minutes Slow the speed and decrease the gradient gradually to warm-up pace.
Speeding up is the key to blasting more blubber. Research from the University of Pittsburgh also shows that fast walking might be linked to longevity. Add interval training, fartlek walks and power sessions into your weekly hiking routine (see the example walking plan). Don’t know how hard to hike? Wear a heart rate monitor and aim to work at around 80 per cent max heart rate (MHR) for interval and fartlek work. A heart rate monitor will highlight how hard you’re working, and you’ll then learn when you need to push harder, adds Richie Simpson, walking instructor at New You Boot Camp. Walking further is also a good aim. Set a distance or time target, such as a challenge of walking 10,000 steps a day.
Using poles can increase the burn of a walk by engaging the muscles in your upper body. Statistics show that Nordic walking (using long poles and an upper-body action similar to cross-country skiing; see nordicwalking.co.uk) burns more calories than walking without poles. Nordic walking poles help you engage all of your major muscles with every step. This helps to spread the load evenly between upper and lower body, which means you can go further and faster than usual without getting too fatigued, explains Gill Stuart, sports therapist from Nordic Walking UK. Research shows that this method burns up to 40 per cent more calories than normal walking. In fact, it uses more energy than jogging and swimming, yet feels easier due to the support provided by the poles. Other research shows that using trekking poles can reduce leg soreness and boost recovery after up- and downhill hikes. They also help take the weight off knee and hip joints as you descend. Want to add walking to your gym routine? Try this 20-minute treadmill workout from personal trainer Greg Smalls, of SkillsActive.
To increase the number of calories you burn, add some resistance to your next walk. Uphill walks are a form of resistance training that will build muscle and power in the calves, quads and hamstrings. And if hill hiking isn’t your thing, a heavy backpack, set of steps or even walking with a light dumbbell in each hand on the treadmill will up the challenge of your next walk. Carrying a medium to heavy rucksack engages the core muscles, which become stronger and more toned as a result. Wrist weights and small dumbbells are all great ways to increase the calorie burn of your walk, explains Simpson. Every week, try to include some incline and decline walking, whether hills, stairs or steps. Walk up the escalator or take the stairs instead of the lift. All of these little daily changes will develop the muscles you want to tone. Happy hiking!
30 mins at brisk pace (e.g. 4mph)
20 mins as 5 mins easy/ 5 mins fast x 2; + a 2-min cooldown
30 mins at brisk pace THE WALKING EDIT
30 mins as
– 5 mins easy
– 20 mins hilly
– 5 mins easy
Stock up on the latest hiking kit and speed up your Sunday strolls
30 mins as
5 mins easy/
5 mins fast
x 3;+ a 2-min
40 mins at