You need to make sure you’re pushing yourself hard enough, says Judy Kuan, a New York City–based personal trainer and yoga instructor. Translation: While those laid-back strolls with your best friend are certainly better than meeting for coffee and doughnuts, it’s important to make sure your walk isn’t too easy if you’re counting it as your exercisefor the day.
“In order to get the optimal physical and mental benefits from your walking workout, it’s important to maximize the time you spend walking,” says Kuan. “That doesn’t mean pushing yourself so exercise for get injured.” However, Kuan says, there are simple ways to make sure your walking workout isn’t too easy. Here are four signs you might need to take it up a notch and ways to increase your effort—safely.
Sign #1: You never break a sweat.
If you find that you don’t need to change your shirt, wash your face, or even wipe a few beads of sweat from your brow after your walk, odds are you’re not reaching 75 to 80% of your maximum heart rate—the range that puts you in the ideal aerobic zone, says Kuan. “Ideally, you want to be in this zone for at least 10 to 15 minutes during a 30-minute walk for the optimal health benefits,” she says. This is a pace that, on a scale of 1 to 10, will feel like about a 6 or 7—it should have you huffing and puffing. This is the zone to reach if you’re hoping to use your walking workouts—along with a healthy diet—to lose weight.
The solution: Hop on the treadmill.
It can be tough to gauge how much you can pick up your pace—and sustain it—to get into this cardio zone, says Kuan. So even if you love walking outdoors, get on a treadmill for at least one walking workout so you can see how fast you really need to walk (and what that feels like!) in order to break a sweat and hit that 75 to 80% of your max heart rate. “Many of my clients find that they can stick to a consistent 3.8 miles per hour or more on the treadmill, and it takes walking for a little while at 2.5 miles per hour to realize that that’s their go-to pace when they walk outside,” says Kuan.
Sign #2: You have long chats with your walking buddy.
Your daily walking workout can be a great chance to multitask. After all, if you walk with your partner or a good friend, it’s an opportunity to vent about your day and connect with your support system. But if you can string together more than five words without any challenge, you should be pushing yourself a bit more, says Kuan. Sarah Ann Kelly, a personal trainer in Los Angeles, agrees: “While it’s fun to walk with a buddy, you shouldn’t be able to keep a conversation going comfortably,” she says.
The solution: Add intervals.
By picking up your pace at set intervals—say, for 1 minute every 3 minutes during your walk—you’ll be forced to pick up the pace to the point where you can’t chat during those bouts of time. Not only does this intensity boost help you blast calories, but it also keeps you focused on the fact that you’re working out, says Kelly. “To make intervals easy, use benchmarks along your route—for example, a mailbox, stop sign, or lamppost ahead of you—and alternate increasing and decreasing your speed between these points,” she says.
Sign #3: You’re not seeing results.
Oh, the dreaded weight loss plateau. Rather than get frustrated and discouraged when the same workout and diet routines stop working, take it as a sign that it’s time to switch up your routine. “Plateaus happen. In fact, they usually mean you’re on the right path,” says Kelly.
The solution: Split your walk in two.
Rather than sticking to your once-daily walking workouts, split your time in half and walk twice a day instead. “By getting your heart rate up at two different times in one day, you’ll extend the calorie-burning benefits,” says Kelly. Another perk, says Kuan, is that this can also help you keep your diet in check. “Oftentimes, my clients will walk for an hour in themorning and then give themselves carte blanche to eat anything they want because they’ve already worked out,” she says. Spreading your walking workouts into two times a day can help you keep your mind on the prize and help control your eating, she says.
Sign #4: You don’t feel tired—or sore—after your walks.
If you don’t feel even a little fatigued after your walking workout, it’s a clue that it’s time to push yourself harder, says Kuan. “Even flat walks should have you feeling tired when you’re finished,” she says. It’s also important not to fool yourself into thinking your lack of fatigue means you’re at the top of your workout game. “I get that it can feel really good when the workout routines you’ve created start to feel easy,” says Kelly. “But it’s crucial to remember that when this is the case, you’re not going to get the best results.” It’s actually time to take your walks to the next level.
The solution: Change your terrain.
Walking uphill is a foolproof way to fire up the muscles in the back of your body, including your calves, hamstrings, and glutes, says Kuan. “As these muscles get stronger, you’ll likely feel a little sore—possibly evenduring your walking workout,” she says. This is also an effective, low-impact way to increase your cardiovascular efforts. “If you have an injury or are afraid to boost your speed, walking uphill can get your heart rate up—minus the need for speed,” she says.