Fit people, especially runners, are not born overnight. It takes long months of training to get comfortable with regular exercise, especially a high impact sport, like running.
But, if you are out of shape and/or overweight (20-pounds heavier or more), then taking up any high-intensity, high-impact from the get go might not be the best idea.
If that’s your case, then start with walking. Doing so can prevent you from getting injured and discouraged early on.
So, for instance, if your goal is to become a regular runner, you should not entertain any notion of running or walking/running until you can brisk walk for 40 to 50 minutes with much ease.
Therefore, whether you’re looking to just get in shape, or serious about becoming a regular runner down the road, here are my complete beginner guide to fitness walking.
Note: I’m not a certified physician. So, a word to the wise, before taking up this walking plan, talk with your doctor first, especially if you’re over 40, have serious health issues, have a family history of heart disease, or are overweight.
How to Start a Walking Program for Beginners
The Benefits of Walking
“Walk” is not a bad four-letter word. And it’s not a sign of submission or softness. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a matter of fact, walking is, hands down, one of the most convenient and enjoyable forms of exercise. It can help you get in shape, shed weight, improve stamina, reduce stress, and boost your health and well-being.
Not only that, walking, and other moderate forms of exercise can cut the risk of major diseases, including stroke, heart disease, and some cancers.
All you need is a proper pair of walking shoes, comfortable clothing, and off you go.
Walking is also a suitable alternative to intense, high-impact aerobic exercise. It’s the next best thing—especially if your current health condition does not allow you to partake in high-impact, high-intensity training.
Walk Before You Can Run
Walking is great for beginner runners because it puts your arms and legs through the same general motion as running, but without the high impact forces on your bones and joints.
This is ideal for beginners who’re suffering from any joint conditions or issues, where the high impact can be a source of worry.
Even established runners can benefit from walking. Walking is the ideal warm-up and cool-down for running. It’s also the perfect exercise option during the recovery days, when nursing a serious injury.
The Perfect Session
Start your walking session with five minutes of walking at a moderate pace to warm up, followed by a brisk walking segment, then ending your session with a 5-minute slow-paced walk to bring your heart rate down and return to normal function.
Last up, slow down your pace to cool down during the last few minutes of the session.
How to Start Walking?
The answer is simple: Start small, then build it up slowly. That’s it. The idea of “starting a workout program” can seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.
As long as you’re staying within your fitness level, you are good to go.
Start out with a relatively small amount of time—15 to 20 minutes, depending on your personal preferences and fitness level. Aim to walk for at least four to five days a week.
Just walk out the door. For most folks this means heading out the door, walking for 15 minutes or so, then walk back. That’s it.
Start this way, and you’ll be on your way to success. Keep doing this every a day for a week, or two, depending on your fitness progression and goals.
Just whatever you do, start at a pace that’s suitable for you. Then stick to it.
According to experts, you should aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, which stands for about four to five miles, to stay reasonably fit and healthy. If you can do more, then do more. But keep listening to your body the entire time.
Start by walking three to four times the first week. Shoot for at least 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking the first week. Then increase it to 25 to 35 minutes the second week.
Keep increasing your walking time until you are doing it for as long as desired (or as long as your schedule allows for).
Find The Right Pace
Start slowly and gently, then pick up the pace till you are walking briskly—generally covering 3 to 4 miles per one hour.
As a rule of thumb, keep your pace gentle but walk at a brisk pace, opting for a smooth stride. Your pace should be intense enough for you to be breathing hard, but you must still be able to carry on a conversation without gasping on every step you take.
If it’s getting hard to catch your breath or maintain a conversation while walking, then slow it down, or stop altogether.
How to Progress?
As a general guideline, start out walking just three times the first two weeks, then four times on weeks 3 and 4, then up it up to 5 times afterward.
During the first week, do no more than 20 to 30 minutes a session. Next, on the second week, increase it to 30 to 35 minutes the second week. Then keep adding two to three minutes to your walking time from one week to the next.
Once you can walk for at least an hour with little trouble, then you can insert jogging intervals in between.
Break it Down
To get the most of this exercise, aim for at least 160 to 200 minutes each week.
If a one-hour session is too much, then break down your walking time into smaller chunks spaced throughout the day. That’s something you can always do. And it’s better than sitting on the couch the whole day doing nothing.
Watch your Form
Regardless of walking pace, you need to keep good posture throughout the session.
Here are a few things to bear in mind to build proper form.
- Walk upright with your feet hip-width apart and parallel, landing gently on your heels and coming evenly off your toes, so your feet don’t collapse inward or outward.
- Keep your head held up high, eyes gazing forward, with your chin parallel to the ground and neck in line with the rest of your spine so that your shoulders are in line with your ears.
- Keep your elbows bent while swinging your arms back and forth in a continuous manner. This will not only add intensity to your walks but also help tone your upper arm muscles.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and loose. Roll them down away from your ears to prevent tension.
- Engage your core and pull your navel towards your spine to help stand, and stay, tall throughout the session.