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By Jenny Everett
When you want to shed serious weight, walking might not even come to mind. But it should.
"Fast-paced walking, when combined with healthy eating, is hugely effective for weight loss," says Art Weltman, PhD, director of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia. And those simple steps can have a big impact on your overall health, cutting your risk of everything from heart disease to depression. If your daily strolls haven't made you skinny so far, your speed may be the problem. Many of us stride more like a window-shopper than a power walker. The goal — thankfully — isn't crazy race-walker style; you just need to move at a challenging pace.
In studies, Weltman has found that women who do three short (about 30-minute) high-intensity walks plus two moderately paced recovery walks a week lose up to six times more abdominal fat than participants who simply stroll five days a week. (This despite the fact that both groups burn the exact same number of calories.)
The power walkers also drop about four times as much total body fat. "There is a strong relationship between intensity of exercise and fat-burning hormones," says Weltman. "So if you're exercising at a pace considered to be hard, you're likely to release more of these hormones." The best part: When women walk, deep abdominal fat is the first to go. That's a scientific fact we can get excited about.
Another happy truth: Although you're moving at a fast clip, power walking is still easier on the joints than running. "During walking one of your feet is always in contact with the ground," says Weltman, "but during running there's a float stage where your whole body is lifted in the air. Then you come back down and subject your body to the impact."
That's why walking is a smart long-term fitness plan. To get you off on the right foot, here's a complete primer, from how to tweak your speed for maximum burn to what gear you need (hint: almost none). Follow the workouts and wisdom — along with healthy eating — and not only can you lose those extra 10 pounds in three weeks, but you will have a no-fuss plan that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Dial in your speed
To make sure your pace is on point, use these guidelines from exercise physiologist Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym. For maximum fat burn, aim for 30 minutes at power-walk intensity three days a week. That time can be completed all at once, or you can break it up into spurts with recovery strides (stroll or brisk walk) in between.
- Stroll. Think window-shopping pace, or an intensity of 4 on a scale of 10. It burns about 238 calories an hour.
- Brisk walk. This means an effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 10. It burns up to 340 calories an hour (at a 3.5 to 4 mph pace). While you can gossip about Mad Men, you need to catch your breath every few sentences.
- Power walk. You're torching off approximately 564 calories an hour (at a 4 to 5 mph pace). Moving at this clip, using your arms to help propel you forward and taking longer strides, your effort should be a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. Talking is possible only in spurts of three or four words, but . . . you'd . . . rather . . . focus . . . on . . . breathing.
The amped-up plan
This program from Holland mixes a regular walking workout with interval routines to help you reach your power-walking quota of 30 minutes, three times a week. Aim to walk on three nonconsecutive days and either rest or cross-train on the other ones. If you cross-train (think power yoga or swimming), you'll help your body recover; and with diet, you'll progress more quickly to dropping up to 10 pounds in three weeks.
Keep reading for more tips plus the full walking plan.