I’m not going to drone on about how walking can improve cardiovascular health and improve insulin sensitivity, although it does both of those things. Instead, I want to list a few ways by which it can complement and even improve your gym workouts:
1 Fat Loss
I’ve generally been dismissive of using exercise as a means to fat loss. It’s just that you have to exercise a long time to compensate for that 500-calorie scone you gave yourself as a reward for yesterday’s workout.
Walking, however, is something you can do every day for a relatively long time without losing your mind. The same can’t be said for most other fat-burning techniques, eg, battling ropes, burpees, kettlebell swings, etc., which can usually only be sustained for a few minutes and require a big dose of willpower to initiate.
A good, mostly fast Fartlek walk can burn 400 calories an hour – more if you’re a big dude – and that’s significant. Burning that number of calories at least three or four times a week will equate to visible results in as little as a month. And the kicker? That fat loss will likely occur without any loss of muscle.
2 Helps with Recovery
Walking doesn’t add to any physiological stress imposed by regular weight training. Equally important, it facilitates recovery by increasing blood flow. There’s even evidence to suggest that it has a small “spinal flossing” effect, which is an alleged therapeutic gliding of the spinal cord and major nerves. In other words, it’s like giving oil to the Tin Man.
3 Builds Fitness and Work Capacity
Lifters generally work at high intensities for short durations (the phosphagen energy system). Let’s say there’s a roomful of fat ladies attending a Noom meeting in a basement and they’re suddenly threatened by a raging flood. A typical lifter would be able to hoist a few of them to the safety of higher ground, but that lifter would likely fail if they had to hoist a whole roomful of fat ladies. They’d all down. So long fat ladies.
But a program that involves walking really fast, especially if you’re lucky enough to live in an area with some hills, can actually improve V02 max to a level that will augment any high-intensity training session.
4 Helps Fix Bad Backs
I used to have a bad back. When I first got out of bed, I looked like Quasimodo scouring the ground for loose change. No more. Because of walking.
I’m not well-versed in orthopedic matters, so I’ll let T Nation contributor Dr. John Rusin explain it:
“The key muscular players in chronic lower back pain are the quadratus lumborum (QL) and the psoas (muscles located on the back and front sides of the spine). These are deep stabilizers responsible for integrating the lumbar spine with the pelvis and hip complex These two synergistic muscles are prime stabilizers and really act as somatosensory organs as well as mechanical movers and stabilizers.
“As lower back pain is initiated for whatever reason, the deep stabilizers are usually thrown into a heightened state, either becoming functionally tight or not activating to the point of smooth and sequenced function.
“Through research and real-world study with athletes, walking has been shown to be a functional remedy for these two muscle groups. During the gait cycle, the psoas and QL from opposite sides of the body interact and function together in order for you to walk normally. Your body will find a way to coordinate this movement, keep you upright, and moving.
“Improving your gait, finding optimal heel strikes, foot patterns, and keying in on the quality is the way we get you to tap into the vast benefits that walking provides for getting rid of that nagging lower back pain.”
So yeah, what he said.
5 It Works Fast
I’m not a huge proponent of fasted training because when I do it too hard, my blood sugar drops, I see birdies, and I fall and hit my head on a 50-kilo kettlebell. Still, if I were to practice fast training, I’d use walking. It’s not overly strenuous and it won’t burn muscle, which is often a concern with fasted training.
6 It Makes Your Brain Work Better
I don’t know if there are any studies on this, but walking clears the cobwebs and makes my brain work better. Maybe it’s the increased blood flow, or maybe it’s just getting away from computer screens and knocks on the door and noisy neighbors and the wife screaming, “Help me, help me, my hair’s on fire,” or some other selfish crap, but I always get great ideas while walking.