Going for a walk is a lovely way to pass the time, listen to a Podcast, relieve some stress, or just get out of your house or apartment for a bit. And even though it might not feel like you are doing much other than, well, walking, your muscles are actually hard at work.
Walking is one of the simplest, but also most effective forms of exercise. You can get even more out of walking by mixing it up with speed walking or taking on some hills, too.
Here’s a look at what muscles you're working when you walk, the benefits of walking, and how to incorporate it into your weekly exercise routine.
Meet the Expert
- Casey Cohen, NASM is a certified personal trainer at beRevolutionarie
- J.R. Jones is a certified personal trainer and co-founder of ROWDY
- Joey Thurman is a certified personal trainer
- Brandon Nicholas, NASM is a certified personal trainer
What Muscles Does Walking Work?
You may think just your legs are working when you walk, but you are engaging muscles throughout the entire body, notes Casey Cohen, NASM certified personal trainer at beRevolutionarie.
Walking helps work several different muscle groups, including:
- The quadriceps
All of these muscles are working together to push and propel you forward with each step. What’s more, your upper body is working, too. “The upper body, although not targeted directly, is being used to support your torso and stabilize your pelvis so you can stay in an upright position as you walk,” Cohen says. Your hip flexors, abs, and back are all helping support your stride and keep you upright.
If you move your arms or wear wrist weights (or carry other light weights) while you walk, you can get an upper body workout at the same time, too.
How Much Should You Be Walking a Week to Enjoy the Benefits?
Try to get in more steps whenever you can, recommends J.R. Jones, certified personal trainer and co-founder of ROWDY, who recommends walking at a brisk pace. “To help maximize physical and mental benefits, I suggest you aim for 30 minutes a day, five times per week,” she says. “And make sure whatever your pace, your heart rate is elevated—no strolling! Focus on real mindful walking and don’t stress about finding the perfect route—just walk away from your home for 15 minutes and then turn around and walk back home.”
How to Get More out of a Walk
Walking itself is great exercise. Aim for 10,000 steps a day by parking in the furthest spot, getting off the bus or train a stop early to walk to your destination, and taking the stairs when you can. Even if you sit most of the day for work, enlist your colleagues to go on walking meetings away from the office.
And if you want to elevate your walk to even more of a workout, try one of the following ideas:
Look for a hill near you with a gradual incline, recommends certified personal trainer, Joey Thurman. He suggests interval sessions, walking uphill at a brisk pace for a minute or two, then slowly walking back down. Work up to 10-20 reps.
Throw in Lunges and Stretches
“Walking stretches and lunges are a good way to spice up your typical walking exercise,” Thurman says. Try adding these to the middle of your walk when you reach a park or other landmark. To stretch, stand upright and place the ball of your foot onto a step or raised object such as a stair step, then bend your knee and lean forward. Perform 10 stretches for a few seconds each. For lunges, step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90-degree angle. Your rear knee should remain parallel to the ground and your front knee shouldn’t go beyond your toes. Lift your front lunging leg to return to the starting position. Perform up to 10 lunges on each leg. Then continue with your walk.
Try Nordic Walking Sticks
Want to improve your balance and stability when you walk? Try adding a pair of walking sticks. “Nordic walking sticks are good for ensuring your walking exercise trains your body's endurance and strength as well,” explains NASM certified personal trainer, Brandon Nicholas. Try them when you’re hiking or just out on a paved trail. (You can use any chest-height sturdy stick, too, if you don’t have access to Nordic walking sticks.)
Treadmill vs. Outdoor Walking
However you can get your steps in counts, but Nicholas recommends walking outside when you can. “Walking outside is much better than walking on a treadmill because nature is a natural antidepressant,” he says. “When we're outside, our brains are much more stimulated, therefore, not only will walking be beneficial to the body, it will also help combat emotional distress and anxiety.”
Of course, the treadmill can come in handy on rainy or snowy days, too. “If you’re walking inside you have better control over the workout than dealing with weather conditions and harder surfaces of being outside,” Cohen says. “You should be walking at a brisk pace. The aim is to be walking at least three and a half miles an hour, which means setting your treadmill to 3.5 if you’re walking inside,” she says.