Fitness Walking for Beginners

Challenge yourself to get in shape, your way

Photo: Close-up view of person's sneakered feet, walking

If you've ever woken up and thought "Today's the day I start exercising," but don't know what to do, we've got you covered. First, congratulations! Deciding to work out is half the battle. Better still, a great and cheap workout is something you already know how to do: walk.
"Anyone can walk. If you can't make it around the block just yet, walking can be a way of building up strength and fitness," says Michele Stanten, author of Walk Off Weight and an ACE-certified group fitness instructor. The great thing about walking is that you can do it on your own time, no need to adhere to gym schedules. If you already have a fitness routine, you can add on walking to stay active. 
Fitness Walking for Beginners
If you're just getting started, the most important thing is to get into a habit and be consistent, Stanten says. Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day, at a time of day you can commit to.
"Get out there every day so you get into that habit so it becomes something you want to do," Stanten says. Each week, add another 5 minutes until you get to 30 minutes. Your goal is to get to 30 minutes of walking throughout the day. It doesn't matter if you do it in 5-minute blocks or all at once, just try to get off that couch and walk.
If you need help getting motivated, or fitting a walk into your schedule, you could break up your walking time (10 minutes in the morning, 10 at night) or make a walking group with friends or coworkers.  
Step It Up
When you first start walking, chances are you'll begin to see changes in your body because you're stepping out of your comfort zone. Over time, your body will adjust to a new routine and you may not feel the physical effects as easily. To continue to improve, it's important to keep stepping outside your comfort zone. It's time to fitness-ize your walks.
"It's all about interval training," Stanten says. Don't worry, "interval" may sound like something you use for sprinting around a track, but it's beginner-friendly. Interval training increases the difficulty of a walk and transforms it into a more intensive exercise.
Start by sticking to the "1:2" rule, which means one set of increased intensity to every two sets of rest. When you do intervals, you vary between increasing your effort and slowing down. That means you can challenge yourself however you want—maybe the difficulty is speeding up or going up a hill. Stanten suggests planning your interval training around either time or distance challenges.
Time Intervals:
Warm-up: 5 minutes at an easy, comfortable pace
Challenge: 30 seconds as fast as you can
Rest: 60 seconds at your starting pace
Continue for 30 minutes or until the end of your walk.
Distance Intervals: 
Warm-up: 5 minutes at an easy, comfortable pace
Challenge: 1 block as fast as you can
Rest: 2 blocks at your starting pace 
Continue for 30 minutes or until the end of your walk.
If you live in a hilly area, use the hills for your challenge intervals. Try to maintain your starting pace over hills (it'll be tough), and don't get discouraged if you're short of breath. When it comes to exercise, anything that challenges your breathing helps increase your fitness levels, Stanten says. 
Challenge Intervals
For your challenge intervals, focus on taking short, quick steps. "I like to encourage people to think in terms of being really late for an appointment. Walk as fast as you can to catch that appointment," she says. As an added bonus, the next time you're late to the dentist, you'll be able to book it there quickly.
Another trick: "If you're out walking, pick a person ahead of you and try to catch up with them," Stanten says.
Avoid Multitasking
You've probably seen pictures of people walking with handweights, or even read about handweight walking routines, but they're not the best way to increase the difficulty of your routine, Stanten says. Carrying weights when you walk can cause unnecessary stress on your shoulders, greatly increase risk of injury. To challenge yourself, try to increase your speed or walk for longer. You'll actually burn more calories going faster than you will be carrying weight, she says. If you want to add strength training to your routine, do a separate routine so you can focus on form and avoid injury. 
Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.