Walking is an excellent exercise for burning calories and for improving cardiovascular fitness. Recent research has revealed that fast walking is superior to slow walking, especially for reducing abdominal fat. Overweight women who walked at a fast pace lost significantly more abdominal fat than those who walked at a slow pace, even though both groups did the same amount of walking over the six-month study period.
Try interval training for the most effective approach to increasing your walking speed. Interval training alternates periods of faster activity with periods of slower activity.
For example, if you normally walk two miles in 40 minutes, you average a 20-minute per mile pace. Let’s say your goal is to walk two miles in 32 minutes, for an average pace of 16 minutes per mile. At this point in your training you are not capable of walking this fast for that distance. However, you could walk at that 16 minute per mile pace for two minutes. After two minutes at this relatively fast pace, you slow down in order to recover. You will continue alternating two minutes of faster walking with two minutes of slower walking until you complete your two-mile walking distance.
Although you have walked the same distance as usual, the exercise intensity is the key to your fitness improvements. This is because higher exercise intensities require higher heart rate responses, leading to a greater cardiovascular conditioning effect.
Although the two-minute faster walking intervals are relatively brief, they are long enough to provide enhanced cardiovascular conditioning when repeated several times during the two-mile walk. Let’s say that you do nine faster-paced two-minute intervals and nine slower-paced two-minute intervals, for a total walking duration of 36 minutes. You actually performed 18 minutes of faster-paced walking for increased cardiovascular benefit.
Once you can comfortably perform this walking workout you have a few options for further improvements:
Increase the length of the faster-paced intervals to three minutes, while keeping the slower-paced intervals to two minutes. The next step would be four-minute fast intervals with two-minute recovery intervals. When you can complete five-minute faster intervals, reduce the recovery intervals to one minute. From this point, you should soon be capable of walking the entire distance at the faster pace, thereby achieving your goal of two-miles in 32 minutes.
Continue training with two-minute intervals, gradually increasing the speed of both the faster-paced and slower-paced segments. This, too, results in less time to complete the two-mile distance while maintaining the interval training protocol.
It may be best to alternate between interval workouts and standard walking sessions. That is, you may do steady-paced two-mile walks on Mondays and Thursdays, and do interval two-mile walks on Tuesdays and Fridays. Two interval training sessions each week should be more than sufficient for optimum progress towards higher fitness levels and enhanced cardiovascular conditioning.
Patriot Ledger contributor Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is senior fitness executive at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., adjunct instructor of exercise science at Quincy College, and author of 22 books.
author: Wayne Westcott