6 Ways to Make Your Walking Workouts Harder

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Pick up the pace or increase the incline to make you walking workout more challenging.
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It used to be that you just walked from your desk to the water cooler or to and from the subway (or your car) before and after work. But thanks to activity trackers, more and more people are motivated to not only count their daily steps, but to make their steps count.

Fitness trackers give you both a high-level and in-depth look at your activity. That means you can see your both day-to-day step counts as well as see trends emerge over a long period of time, making them the easiest way to see your habits in action.

You may find yourself using your lunch break for a quick stroll around the block or walking to and from your favorite coffee shop. All those steps add up! But if you want to maximize both your daily steps and your walking workouts, all while burning more calories in the process, keep reading.

1. Head for the Hills

Even at a relatively low intensity, brisk walking can burn 120 to 200 calories in just 30 minutes, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Walking uphill increases your effort, which burns about 60 percent more calories than walking on a flat surface, according to LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app.

Curious exactly how many calories you burn during your workouts? Download the MyPlate app for a more accurate and customized estimate.

Additionally, walking uphill tones your glutes and calves and mimics the cardiovascular effects of running without the stress on your joints. If you're outdoors, intentionally seek out hills. If you're walking on a treadmill, increase the incline beyond a one-percent grade (which is a similar effort to flat ground outside).

Try starting at a five-percent incline and slowly working up from there, depending on your fitness level. Or try this 35-minute treadmill hill workout from Kyle Golden, a certified fitness trainer and founder of Work It Personal Training in Austin, Texas.

  • 5-minute warm-up, walking at 2.5 to 3.0 mph with a 1-percent incline
  • 2 minutes walking at 3.5 mph and a 5-percent incline or higher
  • 30-second recovery at 2.5 to 3.0 mph with a 1-percent incline
  • Repeat the combination of 2-minute hills and 30-second recovery for 25 minutes
  • 5-minute cooldown, walking at 2.5 to 3.0 mph with a 1-percent incline

2. Speed Things Up

As with other cardio workouts, increasing your walking pace also results in an increase of calories burned. You'll go from burning 150 calories in 30 minutes of walking 3.5 mph to 190 calories for 30 minutes of walking at 4.5 mph, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It may not seem like much, but those extra calories add up over the course of the week, month and year.

Can't sustain a higher speed for a long amount of time? Build up to it by doing intervals (i.e., short bursts of high-intensity walking with recovery periods of slower walking). This will get your heart pumping faster and condition your body to handle higher-intensity cardio bouts in the future. Try adapting the above workout from Golden to be an interval workout.

  • 5-minute warm-up, walking at 2.5 to 3.0 mph with a 1-percent incline
  • 2 minutes walking at 3.5 to 4.5 mph
  • 30-second recovery at 2.5 to 3.0 mph
  • Repeat the combination of 2-minute brisk walking and 30-second recovery for 25 minutes
  • 5-minute cooldown, walking at 2.5 to 3.0 mph

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3. Add Strength-Building Exercises

If you're already out for a long walk, you can amp up your calorie burn and beat boredom by adding some strength exercises into the mix. Doing lunges, high knees or butt kick exercises as you walk can add an extra level of difficulty to your workout — all while targeting more of your core muscles.

Here's a 30-minute kicked-up outdoor walking workout from Golden.

  • 5-minute brisk walking warm-up
  • 10 walking lunges
  • 2-minute brisk walk
  • 1-minute relaxed walk
  • 5 lateral walking lunges on each side
  • 2-minute brisk walk
  • 1-minute relaxed walk
  • 5 lateral squat walk on each side
  • 2-minute brisk walk
  • 1-minute relaxed walk
  • Continue this cycle for 20 minutes
  • 5-minute cool down

Move 1: Walking Lunges

  1. Start standing up tall, then step a few feet forward with your left foot.
  2. Bend both knees to 90 degrees, with your back knee hovering just above the ground and your front knee either over your ankle. You can keep your hands on your hips or hanging by your sides.
  3. Hold for a beat before pushing off your back foot and take a step forward.
  4. Continue walking forward, alternating which leg you're lunging with.

Move 2: Lateral Walking Lunges

  1. From standing, root your right foot into the ground and step your left foot out to the side.
  2. Bend your left knee, keeping it in line with your left foot. You can have your hands on your hips or hanging on either side of the bent leg.
  3. Push off your right leg and step to the left.
  4. Do all your reps on the left leg before doing the same number of reps on the right leg.

Move 3: Lateral Squat Walk

  1. Stand with your feet together, then step out to the right side a few feet, squatting down as you do.
  2. Bring your left foot in to meet your right foot.
  3. Do a few steps/squats to the right, and then repeat the same number of steps/squats out to the left side.

Tip

You may be tempted to add ankle weights to your walking workouts, thinking you'll burn more calories. But it's best to skip them. Wearing ankle weights while walking put extra strain on your ankle joint and leg muscles, which can result in injury, according to the Mayo Clinic.

4. Embrace Friendly Competition

Why not challenge your friends or co-workers to see who can take the most steps each week? You'll not only have built-in accountability, but will receive some extra motivation as well. In the end, you all win! Walking is a mood boost and will make for even friendlier conversation around the water cooler.

To set up the competition, the participant with the least amount of steps at the end of the week buys the first round of healthy cocktails at Friday's happy hour. Or, whoever has the least steps is in charge of the Friday-morning coffee run (to get in extra steps, of course).

5. Break Up Your Day Hourly

Many trackers send alerts after long periods of sedentary activity. For one, Fitbit users have access to a feature called Hourly Activity. Once activated, you set your step-count goal for every hour, versus focusing solely on a 10,000-step daily goal.

Breaking up every hour will get you moving more often, which not only impacts your calorie count, but also counteracts the negative effects of sitting all day.

6. Download an App

There are some great apps out there that'll help you get more out of your steps. For example, when you download Charity Miles, you can earn money for the charity of your choice just by walking!

If you want a trainer-guided walk, the Aaptiv offers various treadmill workouts. You can choose from speed walking, power walking and more, with a curated playlist and trainer right in your earbuds cheering you on the entire way.

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