How to make your walk more challenging and increase fitness

We’ve all heard the phrase “variety is the spice of life”. We know that eating a varied, balanced diet is good for us. And when it comes exercise and variation, the same is true. It is of course beneficial to have a routine and have built up good ‘base’ fitness and stamina, but by adding variety – particularly in the form of small challenges – we can continue to increase our fitness and get stronger. Not only that, adding variation makes your workout more interesting, while challenge leads to a greater sense of accomplishment. So how can we switch up our walks to add challenge and variation? Read on to find out! 

1. Hit the hills 

Whether you throw a few small hills or steady inclines into your route plan, or make your whole walk hill repeats, adding hills or inclines to a walking workout can increase your heart rate, calorie burning, and activation of the hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. Toned legs are an added bonus to the sense of achievement when you reach the top of a tough hill! 

2. Spurt of speed 

Challenge yourself to walk at a faster pace over a certain time of distance. For example, if you’re walking for 45 minutes, why not walk at a steady for 10, fast for 5, and continue until you reach the end of your walk. Walking at increased speeds improves pays dividends to our long-term health, especially the cardiovascular system. If you’re afraid of feeling silly when you ‘power-walk’, we recommend bringing a friend with you – a bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone, after all! 

3. Beat the clock 

If you walk the same route frequently, set a stopwatch and time how long it takes you to complete it (write this down somewhere for safe-keeping afterwards). The next time you’re feeling like a challenge, aim to beat this time and add your times to your record of achievement. This is a great way to remind ourselves of our progress, while also staying motivated.  

Note: it is not necessary to make every walk challenging or fast; the best way is to mix up a variety of paces including gentle strolls (wonderful opportunities for mindfulness and mental health). 

4. Sign up for a challenge 

With a bit of research, it’s easy to find a walking challenge to look forward to and train for. Walking ‘festivals’ have become popular in the last few years, with great locations to escape to, meet new people, and challenge your fitness levels. Many charities also hold sponsored walks, such as the Ultra Challenge Series of walks (check out the website!) If you’re not ready for a larger-scale event, joining a Strava challenge is a good place to start a cumulative walking distance challenge. 

5. Don’t just walk! 

Build other exercises into your walk to shake things up a bit. Try beginning or ending a walk with other exercises to add in additional strength training. Start with a few reps of squats or lunges — you could even lunge while you walk. You’ll be surprised how much toning you can achieve from this added routine. 

Note: be cautious about walking with weights, such as ankle and hand weights. There is a lot of research which shows the weights are not as beneficial for energy expenditure or strength building as is generally thought. There is also an increased risk of injury and putting dangerous amounts of stress of knees and other joints. 

Enjoy your challenge this weekend!