Walking The Walk

In an age where exercise is as mainstream as ever and science continues to show us new and easier ways so stay active, walking remains the oldest and simplest form of physical activity. Not only is it inexpensive, it is the the most ubiquitous form of exercise available to everyone in the world. According to science research, some of the benefits of walking include fat loss, reduction of the the risk of cardiovascular diseases, treatment and lowering of high blood pressure, improvement of HDL and lower resting heart rate.

Fortunately for me, I live in a city where walking is an integral part of the lifestyle and is inevitably encouraged. If you live in New York City or have visited before, you know how essential walking is, regardless of your areas of destination. According to walkscore.com, a website company that ranks walkable cities with access and proximity to and around neighborhoods in United States, Canada and Australia, New York City is ranked number one. It is for this reason that New Yorkers living in New York City get a good portion of their aerobic activity via walking, covering as far as even two miles a day!

But as great as that sounds, you can make walking a much more challenging cardio activity. Brisk walking, which is how an overwhelming majority of us walk, is generally the preferred pace the body will adhere to. This is because at higher intensity work, the body will rely on carbohydrate for fuel as opposed to fat which is used for lower intensity, long-duration activities. Because carbohydrates are limited in the body (via depletion of glycogen stores as exercise intensity elevates), the body will naturally use fat for brisk walking.

However, using high intensity interval training protocols (HIIT), you can make walking fun and challenging while burning tons of fat calories. Here are 5 ways to incorporate HIIT into walking:

1. Aerobic Interval Training: In this method, a 4-minute aggressive, challenging walk is followed after by an easy, light 2-minute walk and repeated 8 to 10 times. As a way to gauge intensity, use the Rating Of Perceived Exertion Scale with the work portion at Hard to Very Hard and the recovery portion at  Light.

2. Sprint Interval Walking:  Note that the term ‘sprint’ here doesn’t mean an all-out run. It should be a near-maximal walk on a treadmill. It should be fast enough so you feel you’re just about to slide off the treadmill but not quite. Using the RPE scale, combine a Very Hard 30-second ‘sprint-walk’ with a Light 4-minute walk. Aim to do 4 to 6 total intervals.

3. Four-Minute Interval Walking: This method calls for an increase in RPE every 4 minutes. Start at a moderate-pace walking speed on the treadmill and increase the walking speed to a much more challenging one after 4 minutes. The process is repeated until a specific number of interval is completed or a set time is achieved. For example, a sample workout could start out at a walking speed of 2.0mph on the treadmill. At the 4-minute mark, the speed is increased to 2.5mph. At the 8-minute mark, the speed is increased again to 3.0mph. The workout is terminated at the 20-minute mark when 5 intervals are completed. The workout can also be terminated after a certain amount of time, say 35 minutes. This workout can be done using an incline walk or a combination with a treadmill speed.

4. Near-Maximal Interval Walking: This method combines a 5-minute near-maximal ‘sprint-walk’ with a light 5-minute recovery walk. The near-maximal walk should be performed at a ‘Hard’ or  ‘Very Hard’ level on the RPE scale while the recovery walk should be Light. 6 to 8 total intervals should be performed or at least 60 minutes.

5. Supramaximal Interval Walking: This may be the the most adaptable and likeable walking HIIT workout. A 90-second ‘sprint-walk’ is combined with a 30-second easy walk. The ‘sprint-walk’ should be performed at a ‘Very Hard’ intensity while the recovery walk should be Light.  An ideal number of intervals to aim for is 12, although 8 would suffice.

Keep in mind that if you’re an elite athlete or possess higher-than-average fitness levels, these forms of walking may not present a challenge for you and can be deemed boring. But even if you can run a mile in 6 minutes, you can embrace a different challenge and give your joints a break occasionally by performing one of the aforementioned workouts. Those suffering form ankle and hip chronic conditions may have a very hard time doing these workouts. Tendonitis, arthritis and bursitis of the knee and hip can make walking very difficult, let alone walking at higher intensities. If you have a chronic condition of any of the joints of the lower body, brisk walking at a moderate-pace is enough for a challenge. Be sure to walk at a RPE intensity of at least Hard.

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