Just like drinking water, walking is one of those activities that we never appreciate, mostly because it doesn’t seem too strenuous or doesn’t get your heart rate up. Just to grab your attention, let me start by saying,
“Walking is one of the best exercise for burning fat and one your body will appreciate the most”.
To understand this, it is good to understand your ideal Fat Burning Zone.
The body does rely on different substrates during exercise according to the exercise intensity. At a lower intensity level, the body relies more on fat as a fuel source as it takes more time to breakdown fat and convert it to energy (a longer process). During high intensity efforts, the body begins to metabolize carbohydrates instead, preferring their speed of breakdown to fuel higher levels of exertion.
The preference for fat at lower levels of intensity has created the fat-burning zone – an intensity at which the highest percentage of calories burned come from fat. However, it is better to focus the majority of your efforts on generating a calorie deficit.
“You may burn a little more fat during exercise, but if a calorie deficit isn’t present, it will all even out in the end you won’t lose much fat at all.”
In lower intensity programs, the overall calorie burn during a workout will be lower than a high intensity workout – regardless of whether those calories come from fat or carbohydrates.
Although steady-state cardio at lower intensities may not necessarily lead to higher levels of fat loss, it can provide a much-needed break from HIIT workouts. Steady state cardio is useful when aiming to create a caloric deficit because it offers an opportunity to burn more calories without increasing intensity, and delaying recovery from heavy weight training workouts. Incorporate lower intensity cardio following hard days to improve circulation while encouraging recovery or during deload weeks when exercise intensity should naturally decrease.
How to find your ideal Fat Burning Zone:
Figure out your max heart rate (Max Heart Rate = 220 – your age). And then determine your fat-burning range, which is 60% to 70% of your max heart rate. Use a fitness app or a smart watch/fitness band to calculate your 5 heart rate zones. (This is an average estimate based on a larger consensus of people, but may not be applicable to everybody. If you have any heart conditions, please talk to your physician before any kind of exercise).
The benefits can be listed as under:
1. It Doesn’t Add Training Stress.
Unlike metabolic conditioning or HIIT, walking adds very little training stress to the body. Combine intense cardio with several days of weight lifting each week and the body may simply overtrain and burnout. Rest is important!!
I like to call walking as an active rest activity and the best part is that it is hard to overtrain with walking. It doesn’t accumulate much stress and you could walk a ton. Shin splints might be your biggest worry, but as long as you watch the incline, don’t go crazy with the volume and wear decent shoes, you should be fine.
2. Walking is restorative and assists with training recovery.
You feel better after you finish a walk, not worse, and the effects are immediate. It increases blood flow, which will help you recover from injuries and even training.
Some say walking also has a small spinal-flossing effect that helps the nerves align optimally and thus conduct their electrical impulses in an ideal way. Ever hear someone say that a walk helps their stiff and sore muscles feel better? Now you know why.
3. It burns a lot of fat and almost no muscle.
Walking is a low intensity exercise, which means it burns a higher percentage of fat. True, walking for 10 minutes doesn’t burn a lot of fat or calories in general, but walk briskly at an incline for 4-8 hours a week and you’ll burn a significant amount of fat.
The fact that it doesn’t harm your muscles is probably the biggest aesthetic benefit. High intensity exercise, particularly cardio, uses glucose for fuel. Normally that isn’t a concern as the body will break down its glycogen storage (stored carbs) for glucose.
If on a diet and lifting weights, glycogen stores are more easily depleted. If you add intense cardio on top of this, the body will release cortisol to help convert amino acids into glucose to be used as fuel. Those amino acids can come from your hard-earned muscle tissue.
Clearly, this is a problem for a lifter because whatever form of energy storage you have, you’ll burn more of that particular energy store. Most people have considerable body fat, and the body is quick to burn that off once they get moving.
But a muscular and moderately lean individual will have more muscle than fat. The body will see the muscle as “excess” and will preferentially burn that muscle to meet the caloric demand of the exercise.
4. It can build aerobic fitness and work capacity.
Brisk walking won’t turn you into a marathoner, but it does build up the VO2 Max.
Going fast on a high incline –without holding onto the handles (in case of a treadmill) –isn’t as easy as it seems. Regularly doing so can often take a more muscular male’s VO2 Max to the 50+ range, which is usually ideal for them to complete challenging weight training workouts.
As for work capacity, a fit person should be able to exercise at a moderate pace for a long time. Walking helps build this ability. A criticism of “meatheads” is that they train their phosphagen (short duration, high intensity) energy system well but nothing else. In other words, if they have to work continuously for any length of time, they can’t handle it. Walking takes care of that.
5 – Stress Relief, Functional and Productive
If you’re on a treadmill, there’s a great chance that it already has cable tv and is connected to news. If you’re walking outdoors, you can simply put some headphones on and listen to your daily podcast. Suddenly, you’ve made your workout a lot more productive and effective!
Walking can also be a great way to have some quiet time, collect your thoughts, ponder your troubles (or escape them), or talk with your loved ones. Truth is, once you complete the walk, you usually feel better and life looks better because of it.
“Functional” might have taken on different meanings, but one meaning is that it’s something which mimics or improves activities of daily living. It may be the single most functional activity a person can do since the need to get around is crucial for human survival.
6. It is low impact and hard to screw up.
Walking is easy and low impact, so even if you have sensitive knees or a bad back, walking shouldn’t affect it. It might even help improve those conditions. The biggest mistake for those who use treadmills is holding onto the handles, particularly if the treadmill is at an incline.
If you hold onto the handles and lean back you effectively eliminate the incline, as now your body is essentially perpendicular to the treadmill –which is what happens when you walk on flat ground.
7. It is better for strength athletes than running.
Running or jogging has benefits, but strength athletes are better off avoiding it. Many lifters notice their lifts and explosiveness go down when they jog regularly. And the heavier you are, the harder running is on your body.
Weight (and not fat %) will always play an important factor if you’re running longer distances. It doesn’t matter if you’re at 4% body fat. If you’re heavy, it will have an impact on your knees.
Note that I’m not talking about sprints.
8. It works fasted.
The theory behind fasted cardio is that if the body is low on carbs, it will turn to fat for energy. I agree with this premise and walking is the perfect form of exercise for it.
Where everybody seems to screw up is by trying to perform HIIT cardio while fasted, which isn’t smart because you’ll burn a lot of muscle –assuming you have a decent amount of muscle to begin with.
9. It is for all age groups
It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 70. Every person in every age group can benefit from this activity and it requires no training whatsoever. It is literally one of the first things we lee earn to do in life!
The Only Disadvantage
Walking is time consuming. To burn fat I’d suggest three hours of walking a week at a minimum, but 4-5 hours is ideal.
You won’t be able to read at the pace I suggest. Don’t try. But watching TV, chatting, listening to music, books, lectures, or podcasts is a great way to pass the time.
The vast majority of people spend more than 3-6 hours a week watching TV. On a treadmill you could still watch that amount of TV and get lean at the same time. Although, I prefer a walk in the open, thanks to fresher air, and the fact that treadmill might not be good for your knees in the long run, especially for heavy people.