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Is brisk walking really better than regular walking?

There's a right time to dial up the intensity — and a time to slow things down.
Power walking entails pumping your arms and moving at a faster pace.
Power walking entails pumping your arms and moving at a faster pace.Getty Images/iStockphoto

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We all walk to some extent every day — even if it’s just around your house doing chores. And that movement throughout the day is important for maintaining overall health. But if you want to use walking as your main form of exercise to achieve your fitness goals, there are different ways to approach it to reap more benefits.

As a health and fitness coach, I’m often asked about the differences between brisk walking and regular walking when it comes to toning muscles and heart-health benefits.

Research has shown that taking more steps per minute, as one does while power walking, can help with insulin levels and body mass index. While power walking is a good way to burn calories, that doesn’t mean that there’s no room in your routine for a regular, moderate-paced walk. Here’s what you need to know to decide when to dial up the intensity — and when to slow things down.

What is power or brisk walking?

So what is a power walk, exactly? Power walking entails moving at a quick speed and getting your arms involved. To get the most out of this workout, make sure to move your feet from heel to toe with each step, moving as quickly as you can. Pump your arms, keeping them bent at a 90-degree angle, to maintain momentum. Make sure to engage your core throughout to build strength and improve balance in your body. Power walking engages the entire body, burning more calories and getting your heart rate up.

What are the toning benefits of brisk walking and regular walking?

While power walking and regular walking both work the quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and hip abductors, power walking also tones the glutes, shoulders and upper back. Regular walking is still a lower-body workout, but tends to help burn calories more than anything else.

Power walking, on the other hand, helps burn calories while also toning your muscles more than a regular walk would. The more intense arm movements during power walking work the shoulders and upper back while engaging the entire body and challenging balance and stability, which works the core.  

What are the cardiovascular benefits of brisk walking and regular walking?

Regular walking allows you to set a comfortable pace. So if you’re new to working out, starting off with a regular walk can help you ease into physical movement and improve endurance without pushing yourself too hard. If you’re worried that you won’t be working hard enough, don’t be. Walking at any pace will still help you burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness — and you can always gradually increase the pace.

Brisk walking demands more from our cardiovascular system. Because power walking requires more steps per minute, your heart rate will increase more than it would on a regular walk. This makes brisk walking a more intense cardiovascular workout that burns more calories than regular walking.

What is better for me: power walking or regular walking?

There are certain circumstances where you will benefit from a power walk over a regular walk and vice versa. If you only have a short amount of time to squeeze in a workout, opt for a power walk. You’ll be able to burn more calories and tone your muscles in a shorter period of time with this form of walking.

However, if you have a longer amount of time to exercise, going on a regular walk can be a relaxing way to burn calories and de-stress. When people tell me they are super stressed or anxious, I always recommend a regular, moderate-paced walk. Walking at a moderate pace still works the heart. Plus, you’ll be able to clear your mind and focus on yourself.

Try power walking intervals

If you enjoy your casual stroll through the neighborhood, but want to kick things up a notch, try alternating between regular walking and brisk walking. This means that you’d walk regularly, but for one block or one minute you’d add in a power walk. Pump your arms and take quicker steps. You’ll be walking faster and covering more ground. After that one minute or one block, slow down and go back to regular walking. You can add in power-walking intervals as frequently as you’d like. Ultimately, this technique will help you build up to a faster walking pace over time.

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