Exercise: Starting a Walking Program



About Starting a Walking Program

Here are some general guidelines to help you develop your own fitness walking program. 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
52 66 79 92 105 117
54 67 80 94 107 121
58 72 87 101 116 131
65 81 97 113 129 146

*Based on Bubb et all: Predicting Oxygen Uptake During Level Walking Speeds of 80-130 meter/minute. Journal of Cardiac Rehabilitation. 5:462-465, 1985.

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.

Look at your calendar and decide with dates and time you will walk for a specified amount of time. Some people choose to walk in the morning to get ready for the day while others walk toward the end of the day to relieve tension and stress. Some schedule a walk during the lunch hour or right after lunch as a way to break up the workday and get re-energized.

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.

Walk Safe
Below are some safety precaution tips for walkers:

  • Walk on sidewalks where possible. If walking on streets, always face oncoming traffic.
  • Avoid walking after dark. If you choose to do so, walk on well-lit streets wear reflective accessories and light-colored clothing, carry a flashlight, a whistle, and a cell phone.
  • Walk with a mission. Try to look like you know where you are going and walk briskly.
  • In case you are attacked, yell "FIRE!" instead of "Help". People will respond to you more readily if they hear "FIRE!"
  • Try to let someone know where and when you will be walking so they know your whereabouts and when to expect you back.

Resources on Campus

Additional Online Resources

Related Topics

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat or provide a second opinion on any health problem or disease. It is meant to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between an individual and his/her clinician.


Last reviewed: March 2014

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