Exercise: Starting a Walking Program

General Guidelines

Please check with you physician before starting a regular exercise program.

  • Beginner 
    Try walking briskly at a 3 to 3.5-mph pace (walking a mile in 17-20 minutes), beginning with 10 minutes per day for the first three weeks. Slowly increase the time you walk by 5 minutes per week until you are able to walk 30 minutes per day, six days per week.
  • Intermediate
    If you are already in good shape, start at this level. If not, you can continue here after about a month of the "Beginner" program. Aiming for a pace of 3.5 to 4.5 mph (13-17 minutes per mile), walk 3 miles (about 45 minutes), 3-5 times per week. If you find that you can't walk that fast, increase the distance that you walk instead.
  • Advanced 
    If you already do fitness walking and/or are in excellent shape, increase the intensity of your workout by doing the following:
    • Walk/hike with a 10-15 lb. backpack
    • Add uphill/downhill and stairclimbing to your regular walks
    • Walk on the beach; the sand will increase your intensity level
    • Use 2-3 lb hand weights and continue your arm swing motion
    • Try racewalking (5-9 mph). There are many local organizations and competitions you can join.

Fitness Walking Technique

Proper technique in fitness walking can make your workout more effective and enjoyable while helping to prevent injuries.

  • Posture 
    Keep your head upright, looking ahead. Your chin should be in a neutral position, not to high or tucked in towards your chest. Your shoulders remain back and relaxed, not hunched over.
  • Foot Placement 
    Keep feet close to an imaginary line in the center of the pavement in front of you (follow lines on a track). 
  • Finding Stride Length
    Stand upright with feet slightly apart. Lean forward at the ankles (like a ski jumper). Transfer your weight forward and as you do, put your right foot out in front of you and catch yourself before you fall forward. This is your stride length. You should maintain the same stride length regardless of the type of walk you do (Strolling - 3 mph; Brisk/Fitness walking - 4 mph; Racewalking - 5 mph
  • Stride
    Always keep at least one foot on the ground. The heel strikes the ground first, following with rolling onto the ball of your foot, finishing with a strong push off the toes (trailing foot). Focus on quicker rather than longer strides. Avoid slapping the ground with your feet and concentrate on smoothing out the movement.
  • Arm Swing 
    This makes your walk a total body exercise. You will burn an additional 5-10% calories. Let your arms bend at the elbows and swing them in step with your feet in an arc from your waist to the front of your chest; your hands should reach just below chin level. Your forearms should brush your hips to keep your stride forward.

Fitness Walking to Lose Weight 

You will notice several improvements from a regular walking program within about 2 weeks (decreased blood pressure, stronger leg muscles, improved energy levels). Losing weight will occur when you increase and maintain a regular walking program, but it takes time and patience.

Walkers who wish to lose weight should gradually work up to a walking schedule of 5-7 days per week, 45-60 minutes or more at a moderate to vigorous intensity level (50-85% of your maximum heart rate). To achieve significant weight loss, a combination of exercise and calorie reduction in your diet is recommended. Include a strength training component into your workout program to increase muscle mass and condition your whole body in addition to the legs.

The caloric expenditure of walking is dependent on body weight. You can approximate the calories burned by walking using the following chart as an example*:

Walking Pace (mph)
Body Weight (lbs.)
100 125 150 175 200 225
3.0
52 66 79 92 105 117
3.5
54 67 80 94 107 121
4.0
58 72 87 101 116 131
4.5
65 81 97 113 129 146

Walking Throughout Your Day 

According to the Surgeon General, we should all be doing at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. To increase activity levels, the good news is that any activity you do counts and can be accumulated (i.e. three 10-minute walks spread out during the course of the day) to produce real health and fitness benefits. Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can help you meet your health and fitness goals.

Try to accumulate a full 30-60 minutes of daily activity by doing some combination of the following:

  • Walk to work 1-2 times per week or take public transportation part of the way and walk the rest.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk during your breaks.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk before or after meals.
  • Walk up and down stairs; avoid taking the elevators and escalators.
  • Enjoy a brisk walk to meetings across campus.

When at home, keep active. Do some gardening or yard work. Walk the dog. Walk to grocery store. Sign up for an evening dance class or learn a new sport by taking lessons or enrolling in a class (i.e. soccor, tennis, water aerobics). Take an after-dinner walk with a partner along safe streets.

When planning for exercise, get ready for the next work day by packing a gym bag with your walking shoes, change of clothes, and toiletries so you are prepared to exercise either during the workday or on your way home.