The benefits of walking

Powerlifter, nutritionist and trainer with twenty years’ experience Tim Enriquez explains why regular walking is the best friend of the zoner (weight training enthusiast).

1. Doesn’t overload after the iron
Walking, unlike VITTs and other intense cardio, is not particularly strenuous. If you add all sorts of intervals to the iron, your beloved body can quickly become overworked. That’s not the case with walking. Sure, you can overdo it too, getting to the point of splitting your shin (anterior shin surface pain after excessive exercise), but if you control the intensity and volume, and splurge on normal shoes, you should be fine.

2. Recovering from iron
Walking improves blood circulation, which helps with recovery from strength training and injuries.

There’s even talk that walking helps the nerves in the spinal cord line up optimally to conduct their electrical impulses perfectly.

3. Burns a lot of fat, but not muscle
Yes, yes, the intensity is low, so you won’t lose much weight in 10 minutes. But if you devote 4-8 hours per week to brisk uphill walking, you’ll be amazed at the results.

The main advantage of walking is that it doesn’t touch your muscles. Strength training (and ‘heavy’ forms of cardio) requires glucose as fuel, pulling it out of glycogen stores. When you’re deficit and pumping for muscle support, heavy cardio will only add cortisol to convert amino acids into glucose fuel. And those amino acids come from precious hard-earned muscle.

4. It does not damage muscle fibers.
Walking works type I muscle fibres (slow-spinning); interval cardio can switch on type II fibres (fast-spinning), but with side effects – turning them into more aerobic and “slow” type IIa (instead of more “sharp” and powerful IIb and IIx).

The 30-second intervals may seem short to some, of course, but they are long enough for athletes focused on developing maximal effort, and their bodies will adapt accordingly.

5. Improves fitness and aerobic performance
A brisk walk won’t turn you into a marathon runner, but it’s enough to pump up your MPC (VO2 Max). Walking uphill at 6-7km/h – without a handrail – isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If you do it regularly, you can get up to 50+ BMR (read more about VO2Max value) – more than enough for continuous weight training.

Jocks are often criticised for only developing the phosphagenic energy system (high intensity but short duration); walking helps tone up the aerobic system as well.

6. Relieves stress
A walk is perfect for being alone with yourself or with your loved ones, to collect your thoughts, to reflect on your problems (or to get away from them). Usually, afterwards, you feel better and life gets better.

7. Walking is functional
“‘Functional exercise’ is, of course, a stretch, but one of its meanings is activity that mimics or enhances daily life. And walking can be called one of the most functional types of exercise, because the ability to move on your own two feet is critical for everyone.

8. Not particularly traumatic, to say the least
Most people find walking quite easy. If you’ve got a bad knee or back, walking won’t kill you – in fact, it might even make you feel better.

The biggest mistake on a treadmill is holding on to the handrails, especially when walking uphill. When you lean on the handrails and lean backwards, you very effectively eliminate the useful incline because your body is now perpendicular to the treadmill.

9. Walking is healthier for weightlifters than running.
Of course, running has its benefits, but it’s better to avoid it if you’re a strength-trainer. Many athletes find that they find it harder to develop maximal and explosive effort when they get addicted to running. In addition, the heavier you are, the harder running hits your body.

10. Running on an empty stomach

Proponents of ‘fasting’ cardio argue that the body is simply forced to burn fat as carbohydrate fuel is scarce. In any case, walking is ideal for a fasting workout, as it puts very little strain on your muscles.

The only problem is if you’re trying to do interval or other intense cardio workouts on an empty stomach – you’re at a higher risk of losing muscle.

The only downside to walking

You have to do a lot of walking. At least 3 hours a week, ideally 6. Moreover, it is unlikely you can read at the speed I recommend. But you can watch soap operas (on a treadmill, of course, not on a crowded highway), listen to music and audiobooks, etc. etc.

How to walk

Firstly, fast enough, secondly, uphill. But for all that, walking is still walking, don’t be afraid of muscle-eating catabolism.

For cardiovascular health, it’s advisable to exercise for 30 minutes or longer. Sure, 15 minutes is better than nothing, but an hour-long walk is even better.

Final warnings (before the walking programme)

  • Start easily, don’t rush to jump to a more challenging programme.
  • If you can’t cope with the workload, reduce it by going back to an easier programme.
  • These programmes are designed for 4 sessions per week, if you want to do them more often, repeat any of the workouts you like.
  • Warm-up is usually unnecessary, but adapt to your own condition.
  • The intensity is calculated for the treadmill, as you can set the speed and incline precisely on the treadmill.
  • Please note that the speed, incline and duration of the exercise vary from one training day to the next. These variations are very useful in the long run.
  • Never, ever, ever grab the handrails.
  • Walking in nature is super, but it’s hard to find a mountain with an even gradient. To increase the intensity, take a weighted vest/backpack of 5-20 kilograms.

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