5 Outdoor Walking Workouts

woman walking stairs

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Sometimes working out is the last thing you feel like doing. While it can be challenging to find the motivation to lace up your shoes and get out the door, outdoor walking is a great exercise with many health benefits. Whether it’s a stroll around the block or a 45-minute power walk, outdoor walking can improve both physical and mental well-being

Regular outdoor walking can help improve cardiovascular fitness, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease, lower your resting heart rate, and strengthen your immune system. It also can increase energy, improve sleep quality, enhance cognitive function, reduce stress and anxiety, and combat depression.

The best part is you can start walking today to increase fitness and clear your mind. Read on to discover five outdoor walking workouts recommended by personal trainers, tips on getting the most out of them, and more.

Alternate Between Regular and Brisk Walking

Alternating between regular and brisk walking works many leg muscles, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and hip adductors. Over time, your body will get stronger and your cardio will improve, enabling you to walk faster for longer durations. 

“If you don’t want to maintain a fast pace for your entire walk, you can still get a great workout by alternating between a normal, leisurely walking pace and a faster one,” explains Mike Matthews, CPT, celebrity trainer and author of Muscle For Life. “Aim for a one-to-one ratio between brisk and normal walking.” 

Alternating Walking Workout

Here’s how to perform the workout:

  • Walk at a comfortable speed for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up. 
  • Walk at a brisk pace for 1 minute. 
  • Walk at a normal pace for 1 minute.
  • Repeat the pattern for 30 minutes.

As your fitness improves, gradually increase your brisk walking time to 5 minutes while maintaining the 1-minute rest period. For the average person, walking at a pace of 3.5 miles per hour can burn nearly 300 calories per hour, meaning you will burn fat and carbs while increasing cardiovascular health by alternating between regular and brisk walking. 

The increased blood flow to the brain during brisk walking will enhance brain fitness and cognitive function, allowing you to reap the mental benefits of reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, and better memory. Also, alternating between fast and slow walking will help prepare you to advance onto more strenuous forms of exercise, such as running and long walks.

Try Power Walking

Power walking is similar to regular walking but is done at a faster pace  (typically around 4 to 5.5 MPH) while adding your arms to the mix. Think of it as “almost running,” except one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times to be considered power walking. 

To go faster, or to power walk, the step in front is shorter. Long strides in front can actually slow you down and create a choppy walk that can put more stress on your joints.

You also typically pump your arms to gain momentum while keeping them bent at a 90-degree angle. These intense movements work your shoulders and upper back while challenging your balance and stability. Plus, the faster walking will give your quads, thighs, calves, and glutes a solid workout.

“This particular [power walking workout] will burn calories while being very safe," says Antoine Hamelin, personal trainer and CEO of First Step Fitness.

Power Walking Workout

Here’s how to do a power walking workout.

  • Walk at a comfortable pace for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up. 
  • Power walk at a fast pace for 20 minutes.
  • Walk at a normal speed for 5 minutes to cool down.

Walk an Incline (Stairs or Hills)

If you are short on time, climbing stairs or walking uphill are efficient at improving your cardio and strengthening your thighs, glutes, and calves. Though a more intense workout, incline walking may be easier on your joints than faster walking on level terrain or downhill walking, especially if you're overweight or obese.

“[Climbing stairs] is a great workout that can be done in the workplace or while on vacation if a gym or cardio machines are unavailable,” says Hamelin.

Walking hills and stairs are generally safe workouts. However, Hamelin advises against them if you have existing knee or hip problems. This more strenuous workout can exacerbate those conditions. 

Stairs Workout

Here’s how to do a stairs workout.

  • Walk at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes on a flat surface to warm up.
  • Walk up stairs for 2 minutes. Try your best to maintain a steady pace.
  • Walk down the stairs comfortably and rest for 1 minute.
  • Repeat the pattern for 15 to 20 minutes.

Mix Walking With Bodyweight Exercises

If your walking workouts have become stale and repetitive, try incorporating bodyweight exercises. Doing bodyweight exercises at intervals will transform your walk into a full-body workout, helping you increase strength and build lean muscle.

Adding bodyweight exercises to your walking workout trains your entire body and is very time efficient since your muscles can recover from your bodyweight exercises while you walk,” says Matthews.

The key is to find bodyweight exercises that you can do without excess strain. As you get stronger, you will be able to do more repetitions and sets—meaning more muscle gains while reaping the health benefits of walking.

Walking and Bodyweight Exercises

Here’s how to incorporate bodyweight exercises.

  • Walk at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes to warm up.
  • Walk at a moderate pace for 5 minutes.
  • Perform a bodyweight exercise for 10 to 20 repetitions (or however many you can do with proper form).
  • Repeat the pattern until you have completed five bodyweight exercises.

This full-body workout engages your legs (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves), arms (biceps, triceps), chest (pectorals), core (abdominal muscles), and shoulders. If you need inspiration on which bodyweight exercises to include consider trying push-ups, air squats, walking lunges, tricep dips, or sit-ups.

Use a Weighted Vest While Walking

For those wanting to raise the bar on their walking workouts, wearing a weighted vest is a surefire way to take your fitness to the next level. The increased intensity from wearing a vest can improve your speed, endurance, and strength. In addition, vests help burn more calories, maintain bone mineral density, improve balance, and increase leg strength.

“The added weight will work your cardiovascular system more than a regular walk and greatly increase the demand on your glutes and calf muscles,” explains Hamelin. “It’s a safe way to train despite the increased intensity."

Start with a weighted vest with removal weights in 1/2 to 1 pound increments so you can gradually increase the weight as you become stronger. However, the weight you add should be no more than 10% of your body weight. Most people start with 2 to 5 pounds and progress over time.

Walking With a Weighted Vest

Here’s how to incorporate a weighted vest into your workout.

  • Without wearing a weighted vest, walk at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes to warm up.
  • Put on the weighted vest and walk at a comfortable pace for 10 to 15 minutes.

Hamelin recommends not pushing yourself too hard when starting out with weighted vests. Begin with 10 to 15-minute walks and increase your walking time gradually. Add 5 minutes at a time until you can do 30 to 45 minutes. 

Safety Tips

When implementing any type of walking workout, it is important to keep these important safety tips in mind:

  • Warm up and cool down before you exercise to help prevent injury.
  • Walk during daylight hours.
  • Walk on sidewalks, paths, or in city parks.
  • Avoid jaywalking.
  • Choose safe routes that are well-lit and well-used.
  • Keep hydrated if walking in warmer temperatures.
  • Bundle up if walking in cooler temperatures.

A Word From Verywell

Outdoor walking is great exercise for your body, mind, and well-being, but it is essential to have a plan if you want to get fitter and healthier. That’s why having these outdoor walking workouts in your back pocket will help you stay consistent in getting outdoors when you lack the motivation. 

Before you begin a new walking regimen, talk to a healthcare provider. They can answer any questions you may have and give the best advice on getting started with your outdoor walking workouts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of outdoor walking?

    In terms of physical benefits, outdoor walking puts less strain on the joints than running. As for mental benefits, outdoor walking has positive effects on mental health, brain function, mood, and quality of life. It can even reduce stress. Also, many people find outdoor walking more enjoyable and stimulating than indoor walking.

  • Is walking as good as other forms of cardio?

    The effectiveness of any cardio workout depends on intensity and duration. While running and high-intensity workouts are efficient exercises for improving fitness, walking can be equally as good at boosting fitness and health.

    Like any exercise, it requires consistency, discipline, and pushing yourself to work harder as your body adapts. Also, walking consistently throughout the day, such as walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can help increase the fitness gains from your regular cardio workouts.

  • Which is more beneficial—walking outside or on a treadmill?

    Generally speaking, walking outdoors is better than a treadmill, whether you live in a crowded city or rural setting. When walking outside, you tend to walk faster with more variability, causing you to burn more calories.

    Also, outdoor walking presents unexpected obstacles that cause you to work harder, such as wind resistance and having to propel your own body, unlike a motorized treadmill that keeps you moving regardless. That said, treadmills can be a convenient alternative to maintaining your fitness when the weather keeps you from getting outside, but always opt for the great outdoors when you can.

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By Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and plant-based athlete.