Power walking goes by several different names: speed walking, exercise walking, fitness walking, etc. And of course there is that close cousin of walking which is — hiking. Believe me, the lines separating the names are blurry.
One encyclopedia defines power walking as “walking at a speed at the upper end of the natural range for the walking gait, typically 4.5 to 5.5 mph (7 km/h to 9 km/h).” That is moving at a pretty fast clip. Maybe the other names are associated with slower speeds.
Whatever the speed, walking or hiking is the most accessible form of exercise because nearly everyone can do it, and it can be done almost anywhere and at any time. There is a low risk of injury and, except for proper shoes, no special equipment is required. You can begin a walking program by moving at a slow pace and gradually work up to a faster one.
However, don’t be fooled by thinking power walking is too easy to be beneficial. It can be as intense as you want it to be. By maintaining good form and a brisk pace, you can easily achieve a heart rate level of 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Add some hills and you can really get huffing and puffing.
Getting started with a walking program . . .
Sometimes we over-complicate things that are really quite simple. Walking is one example. It is something we all learned to do at about a year old, and have been doing it ever since. So let's not over-think it. Put on some proper shoes and just go for a walk.
In my beginners’ fitness book, I tell trainees to begin the cardio portion of their lifestyle change by doing the following: The first day, open the front door of your home, step outside, and walk for five minutes. (I ask them to do cardio every other day.) The second cardio day, walk 10 minutes. Add five minutes more each cardio day, until you reach 30 minutes.
After reaching 30 minutes, add some hills and/or walk faster. Take it easy the first five minutes of your walk, and then pick up the pace. Work up a healthy sweat. Gradually slow down during the last five minutes.
When finished, stretch your hamstrings and calves.
Mostly, you will discover on your own the joy of walking, without much coaching from others.
However, I do have a few tips . . .
• As much as possible, don’t walk on hard pavement.
• Do wear properly fitting shoes.
• Don’t walk alone (especially women) in remote places. There is safety in numbers. And always tell friends or family where you are going and when you expect to return.
• Walk naturally. Stand straight and don’t swing your arms wildly or take exaggerated, long strides.
• I’m not a fan of hand or ankle weights. They tend to throw off your stride. If you want to carry extra weight, do it with a waist or back pack. Incidentally, nothing I can think of takes off body fat like carrying a backpack on a mountain trail.
• Wear proper clothing.
• When climbing hills, maintain your rhythm and shorten your stride.
If you would like to read more about walking and hiking, here are some books to consider.
And when it comes to backpacking, let me suggest a favorite of mine: The New Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher. It may be the most thorough analysis of backpacking gear found anywhere. Even more than that, he has a wonderful style and wit, and expresses the pure joy of walking like no one else I know of.
Return from Power Walking to the Cardio page.