How Fast Should I Walk?

How to find the right walking speed for fitness and weight loss

Walking Fast on the Treadmill
Walking Fast. Franz Aberham / Photographer's Choice RF / Getty

How fast should you walk for fitness walking and for the best fat-burning walking pace? You need to walk at a brisk pace to enjoy the boost in metabolism you get with moderate-intensity exercise. But the speed of a brisk pace is different for each person. It depends on your heart rate, which depends on your level of fitness and age.

A brisk walking pace can be anywhere from 13 to 20 minutes per mile, or from 3 mph to 4.5 mph.

But you may be walking at a 20 minutes per mile pace and your body can think that is either fast or slow. You might be doing moderate-intensity exercise and it is a brisk pace for you. But if you are more fit, it might be only a light-intensity exercise.

Learn more about what the moderate-intensity fitness zone feels like. You can only determine that by taking your exercise pulse or wearing a heart rate monitor or a fitness band that detects your heart rate.

Let Heart Rate Zones Judge Your Walking Speed

When you are first getting used to knowing what the different exercise zones feel like, it is useful to take your exercise pulse or wear a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor that shows your heart rate continuously. The zones to aim for are:

  • Healthy Heart Zone: 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. This is an easy and comfortable zone to exercise in. You will be able to carry on a full conversation in this zone, although you may be breathing a little heavier than usual. This is the lower end of the moderate-intensity zone.
  • Fitness Zone: 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. In this zone, you are attaining moderate intensity exercise. You are breathing heavier but can still speak in short sentences. You can talk, but you can't sing. This zone should be your goal for most fitness walking and walking for weight loss.
  • Aerobic Zone: 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. At this intensity, you are breathing very hard and only able to speak in short phrases. This heart rate and above takes intensity up to vigorous intensity.

Finding Your Right Heart Rate

What pulse rate matches each zone depends on your age. Use the target heart rate charts to find the beats per minute for you in the different heart rate zones.

Now you will need to take your pulse or monitor your heart rate while walking to find the right speed.

  • Take Your Exercise Pulse: This is the good old-fashioned way to find your heart rate, but it can be tricky to do unless you slow or stop. There are apps that can help you.
  • Pulse Monitors: These gadgets allow you to place one or two fingers on sensors to read your pulse, and some automatically calculate your heart rate percentage of maximum. But you may have to slow or stop to get a good reading.
  • Fitness Band and Smart Watch LED Heart Rate: More and more fitness bands and smart watches are including LED heart rate sensors. The Fitbit Charge 2, Alta HR, Surge, and Apple Watch are examples. They are evolving and may not be as accurate as chest strap heart rate monitors.
  • Heart Rate Monitors: These use a chest strap to give you a continuous heart rate readout that is as accurate as a medical ECG. They transmit to a wrist monitor or even a cell phone and have a variety of features, including percentage of maximum heart rate and alarms for when you are in or out of your target zone.

    The Right Walking Speed

    Now you can judge whether you are walking fast enough by your heart rate rather than by the clock. If you want to speed up to get into a higher heart rate zone, use the tutorial on how to walk faster.

    As you increase your fitness, you may not be able to walk fast enough to get into the moderate intensity or vigorous intensity zones. Adding hills or stairs may increase your intensity at lower speed. Using fitness walking poles can also increase your heart rate by 6 percent or more at the same speed.

    If you still can't achieve a higher heart rate by walking, you can try using the racewalking technique or switch to jogging intervals to get into a higher heart rate zone.

    Predicting Your Finish Time for Races and Distance Walks

    If you need to reach a certain speed in order to finish a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon before the cutoff time, use these methods to see how fast you need to be walking. See how to predict your race finish time.

    Measuring Your Walking Speed

    There ins and outs of different methods of measuring your walking speed. Cell phone apps use GPS, which can be inaccurate. You may want to use other methods as a check on how accurate your mobile apps really are. Also, learn how to calculate your walking pace, your minutes per mile.