Get Ripped. Get Walking

This is not your mama’s workout. Get to the nearest treadmill and incinerate fat while leaving muscle completely intact.

Lifting’s Perfect Counterpart

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become a conditioning staple. But what about another simple but hugely effective fat-stripping activity, namely steady-state walking?

Fact is, for the typical T Nation reader that’s muscular, lifts regularly, and might want to get a bit more cut, walking can be the perfect complement to a rigorous weight lifting routine.

Ten Benefits of Walking

1. It Doesn’t Add Training Stress.

Unlike metabolic conditioning or HIIT, walking adds very little training stress to the body. But combine more intense cardio with several days of weight lifting each week and the body can quickly become overtrained.

Hard to overtrain with walking. It doesn’t accumulate much stress; you can walk a ton. Shin splints might be the 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 much fat, 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 muscle is probably the biggest aesthetic benefit to the T Nation crowd. 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 Doesn’t Cause Muscle Fiber Conversion.

Walking stimulates the type I muscle fibers and motor units in the body, not the type II’s. HIIT training can call on the type II’s, but it tends to convert them to a more medium power, better aerobic fiber (type IIa) instead of a stronger, larger, more powerful fiber (type IIb or IIx).

A 30-second interval might seem short for cardio, but it’s long for someone focused on strength and power and the body will adapt accordingly.

5. 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 4.0 mph on a high incline – without holding onto the handles – 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.

6. Stress Relief.

Walking can 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.

7. It’s Functional.

“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.

8. It’s 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.

9. It’s 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. Note that I’m not talking about sprints.

10. It Works Fasted.

The theory behind fasted cardio is that if the body is low in 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.

It’s Only Disadvantage

Walking is time consuming. To burn fat I’d suggest three hours of walking a week at a minimum, but six 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.

When to Walk

Timing isn’t super crucial when it comes to walking. If you just want to be fitter and healthier then walk whenever you can. The total duration doesn’t even have to be continuous. If you want to burn fat, the best time to walk is in the morning before breakfast.

The second best time to walk is right after a tough weight-training workout – the workout will have burned off a fair amount of glycogen, leaving your body ready to tap into fat – and the third best time is basically any time you can.

What to Do

Walk briskly. Couple it with an incline or hills on occasion. Go for a reasonable duration. The incline is a great way to increases the calories you’ll burn. Find a level that allows you to burn 8-10 calories a minute. You’re still walking, so any muscle catabolism will be minimal.

You should be able to complete the exercise in full without stopping. If you can’t, you’re likely going too hard.

For cardiovascular benefits and calorie expenditure, walk 30 minutes or more. Certainly walking one mile (about 15 minutes) is much better than nothing, but it’s walking 3, 4 or 5 miles that will really start burning some fat, especially if performed regularly.

Walking Workout Considerations

  • Most lifters can complete the beginner program relatively easily.
  • The intermediate program is best suited for the majority of lifters.
  • The advanced program is a good program to work up to, particularly if you weigh less than 200 pounds.
  • It’s much better to start off with a program that’s a little easy and let it progress than to start off with a program that’s too hard. You shouldn’t come close to failing on these workouts. If you do then you started at least one level too high.
  • Don’t start in the middle of a program. Start at the beginning of it, even if you think it’s too easy. If you can’t complete the week 1 beginner walking program then you have to look in the mirror, declare yourself out of shape, and get your butt in gear!
  • The suggested frequency is four times a week. If you walk more frequently than that, just repeat one of the days of that week – whichever day you want.

Note that each day there’s often minor changes in the speed, incline, or time, so pay attention and try to follow the program. Little changes will add up significantly over time.

  • Don’t hold onto the treadmill. Ever.
  • Warm-ups aren’t generally necessary, although if you need one feel free to use it.
  • This program was set up for a treadmill so I could give precise speed and incline recommendations without having to worry about the weather.
  • Walking outside is great but the big negative is no regular incline, especially if where you live is flat. You can compensate for this by walking with a 10-40 pound vest/backpack to increase the difficulty.

Pick Your Level

  • Beginner: Would have difficulty walking 3.5 mph at 5% incline for 45 minutes.
  • Intermediate: Would have difficulty walking 4.0 mph at 5% incline for 45 minutes but could complete the beginner workout.
  • Advanced: Could handle walking 4.0 mph at 5% incline for 45 minutes.
  • Note: This program is read mph @ incline % for X period of time in minutes, so 3.5 @ 4% 40’ means walk 3.5 mph at a 4% incline for 40 minutes.

Beginner Workout

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Week 1 3.0@1% 30’ 3.0@1% 30’ 3.0@1% 30’ 3.0@1% 30’
Week 2 3.1@1% 33’ 3.1@1.5% 33’ 3.1@1% 33’ 3.2@1% 33’
Week 3 3.2@1.5% 35’ 3.2@2% 35’ 3.2@1.5% 35’ 3.3@1.5% 35’
Week 4 3.3@1.5% 37’ 3.3@2.5% 37’ 3.3@1.5% 37’ 3.4@1.5% 37’
Week 5 3.4@2% 39’ 3.4@3% 39’ 3.4@2% 39’ 3.5@2% 39’
Week 6 3.5@2% 41’ 3.5@3.5% 41’ 3.5@2% 41’ 3.6@2% 41’
Week 7 3.6@2% 43’ 3.5@4% 43’ 3.6@2% 43’ 3.7@2% 43’
Week 8 3.7@2% 45’ 3.5@4.5% 45’ 3.7@2% 45’ 3.8@2% 45’

Week 9 and beyond. Progress to intermediate workout

Perform cardio a minimum of four times per week, a maximum of six times per week. It’s okay to perform cardio twice a day if necessary with a maximum of six sessions per week.

Try to burn at least 300 calories each cardio session if you choose not to walk.

Intermediate Workout

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Week 1 3.5@2% 35’ 3.5@2% 35’ 3.5@2% 35’ 3.6@2% 35’
Week 2 3.6@2.5% 37’ 3.6@3% 37’ 3.6@2.5% 37’ 3.7@2.5% 37’
Week 3 3.7@3% 40’ 3.6@4% 40’ 3.7@3% 40’ 3.8@3% 40’
Week 4 3.8@3% 42’ 3.6@5% 42’ 3.8@3% 42’ 3.9@3% 42’
Week 5 3.9@3% 44’ 3.6@6% 44’ 3.9@3% 44’ 4.0@3% 44’
Week 6 4.0@3% 45’ 3.6@7% 45’ 4.0@3% 45’ 4.1@3% 45’
Week 7 4.1@3% 45’+ 3.6@8% 45’+ 4.1@3% 45’+ 4.2@3% 45’+
Week 8 4.2@3% 45’+ 3.6@9% 45’+ 4.2@3% 45’+ 4.3@3% 45’+

Week 9 and beyond. Progress to advanced workout

Perform cardio a minimum of four times a week with a maximum of eight times per week. It’s okay to perform cardio twice per day if necessary with a maximum of eight times per week.

Try to burn at least 400 calories each cardio session if you choose not to walk.

Advanced Workout

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Week 1 4.2@2% 35’ 4.0@5% 35’ 4.2@2% 35’ 4.3@2% 35’
Week 2 4.2@2.5% 38’ 4.0@6% 38’ 4.2@2.5% 38’ 4.4@2% 38’
Week 3 4.3@3% 41’ 4.0@7% 41’ 4.3@3% 41’ 4.5@2% 41’
Week 4 4.3@3.5% 43’ 4.0@8% 43’ 4.3@3.5% 43’ 4.6@2% 43’
Week 5 4.4@4% 45’ 4.0@9% 45’ 4.4@4% 45’ 4.6@2% 45’
Week 6 4.4@4% 45’+ 4.0@10% 45’+ 4.0@4% 45’+ 4.6@2% 45’+
Week 7 4.5@4.5% 45’+ 4.0@11% 45’+ 4.5@4.5% 45’+ 4.7@2% 45’+
Week 8 4.5@5% 45’+ 4.0@12% 45’+ 4.5@5% 45’+ 4.7@2% 45’+

Perform cardio a minimum of four times a week with a maximum of 10 times per week. It’s okay to perform cardio twice per day if necessary with a maximum of 10 times per week.

Try to burn at least 500 calories each cardio session if you choose not to walk.

Walk Away

Fancy energy system workouts and complex lactic acid routines are fun and definitely effective, but they aren’t mandatory if you want to get into great condition. The fact is, to get lean, you needn’t look further than your own two legs. Walk, lift, follow a reasonable diet, and the leanness will come.

Make any workout work better. Fuel it.