Walking For Fitness; How to Start
First; let's talk a little bit about treadmills. If you've ever been on one you've probably noticed how walking –– or even running –– on the flat surface of a treadmill is WAY easier than walking or running outside.
That's because, on a treadmill, you don't experience the subtle changes in the earth's surface. Plus, treadmills tend to be a lot springier and have more give than outdoor surfaces, thereby making it easier to run or walk on them.
If you want to ramp up your treadmill workout, so it's more like walking or jogging on a flat surface outdoors, all you need to do is crank the incline up just a little bit, by 1% to 1.5%.
It's a small change, but it will make a big difference!
Now, what about walking or jogging up steeper inclines?
Well, assuming you have healthy joints and it doesn't aggravate an injury, I'm for it! Mixing up your workout by adding in some hill work is an excellent idea for a couple different reasons.
First, it's more challenging, which means your body gets a better cardiovascular workout AND you burn more calories (if that's something that matters to you).
Also, depending on how high the incline is, it can count as a high-intensity workout, which means you can work out for less time than you would on a flat surface while still reaping the same benefits.
Plus, your muscles work a LOT more by going uphill. This will help you get stronger and build better muscular endurance.
One study that was published in a journal called Gait & Posture looked at the difference between walking on a flat surface versus walking uphill.
Scientists had people walk on a flat surface, and then at a 9% incline, and the results were pretty amazing!
When the study participants walked up the incline (versus on a flat surface), their calf muscle activation was boosted by 175%, their hamstrings – which is the muscle in the back of the leg – worked 635% harder, and the gluteus maximus, which is the most significant muscle in your butt, worked 345% harder!
I think those are some pretty massive increases!
However, there are few things to know if you plan on walking up an incline on a treadmill. One is never to set the slope or the speed so high that you must physically hold on to the treadmill.
Preferably, you should be able to walk up the grade naturally, which requires you to lean forward a bit from your ankles.
If you have to hold onto the railings, either drop the incline or reduce speed. There are all kinds of potential issues that can affect your feet and posture if you choose to ignore this rule. Plus, clinging to the treadmill cuts back on the effectiveness of your workout.
If you are holding on because you're worried about falling due to balance issues, try to only lightly touch the handles (don't grip them) so that you are not using them to "cheat" the workout.
Here's another detail … it's not a good idea to ALWAYS walk up an incline. I know the temptation is there, but instead, mix it up!
And, be aware that ONLY walking uphill can cause other potential injury risks, too.
Most of us have tight hip flexors, which are the internal muscles in the pelvis that connect to the muscles in the front of your legs. Only walking an inclined grade will increase their tension and may result in pain experienced in the lower back or hip(s).
For those outdoorsy types, here's something for you to keep in mind if you're planning to walk or run outside…
If training on hills or slopes is new to you, don't go wild and attack several hills in one day unless you're just a masochist … and, be aware that walking DOWN hill is what can cause you to experience significant muscle soreness the next day! So proceed with caution.
I suggest taking your time at first. Choose to walking up and down hills over at least a few weeks to acclimate, so you won't be tempted to throw in the towel the next day because you're so sore.
I hope this helps you take your walking (and running) workouts to the next level!
I'm here to help you with any fitness or wellness questions you have!
One last thing. If you find yourself drawn to the notion of a walking program to improve your health and shed a few pounds, but are struggling to start, I have a program that offers everything this blog post cannot.
It's my 5-week "Walk for Your Life" Challenge, and it's starting SOON! This is a program I'm proud of. Plus, it's open to both men AND women (especially those new to exercise or haven't done so in a while).
CLICK HERE to learn more, sign up, or get on the waiting list for next year!