Boost the Intensity of Your Walking Workouts to Get Results

Making More of Your Exercise Efforts

woman walking uphill for fitness on a coastal trail in the mountains


If you took up walking as part of a weight loss or fitness effort, you've made a good first step. But after a few weeks of getting a continuous 30-minute walk most days of the week, you might not be getting the results you expected. How can you boost your walking workouts to ensure you're getting moderate-intensity exercise?

When Walking Isn't Working, Boost the Intensity

Your body transforms only when it detects a change in its normal routine. It becomes accustomed to the amount and intensity of exercise you are giving it each day. This is your baseline. You must perform above your baseline to trigger your body to make substantial changes.

When you first started walking for fitness, you may have been inactive or only walked for shorter distances or at a slower pace. Your new workouts may have been a challenge then, but now your body needs a further challenge to continue to make fitness improvements.

How Your Body Responds

If you challenge yourself with higher intensity, your body has to produce more energy in a shorter amount of time. It may have to use some stored fat to do that. Your body will also build new muscle and energy systems so it is ready to meet challenges in the future.

Exercise Intensity Is Relative

Each person has a different level of fitness and exercise tolerance. To know whether your physical activity is in the aerobic exercise zone, you need to take your pulse and see whether you are at 60 to 85% of your maximum heart rate. Pay attention to how hard you're breathing, and whether or not conversation comes easily. Find the pace that prevents you from carrying on a conversation while still able to speak in short sentences, and then build up from there. If you have no problem speaking in full sentences, you have the capacity to go faster or to add hills or incline to reach higher intensity.

You can get a substantial training effect with only 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training. You can do high-Intensity intervals on the treadmill or add intensity to your outdoor walking workouts.

Hill Walking High-Intensity Intervals

One easy interval workout is done by speed walking up a hill, then slowly coming down. Repeat the hill up and down, without rest, for 15 minutes. Speed will be relative but aim for a speed that leaves you breathing very hard by the top of the hill. You'll be able to recover on the downhill.

Walking uphill, you burn an extra 3 to 5 calories per minute over what you would burn walking on the level.

You burn 6.6% fewer calories going downhill than walking on the level, but that doesn't erase the gains made by the uphill portion of the workout.

Higher Intensity Walking on Level Ground

On a flat course, see how fast you must walk before you get to the point where you can only gasp out single words. When you reach this point, slow down for a minute or two, then speed up again for a minute and repeat. Continue these intervals for 30 minutes. If you have difficulty walking fast enough to get to that point, see how to walk faster using good posture, arm motion, and a powerful stride.

Adding Intensity if Flats are Easy

If your fastest walk on the flat does not get your heart rate up into the vigorous zone, use one of these ways to add higher-intensity intervals:

  • Walk hills.
  • Lift your knees to hip level with each step.
  • Wear a weighted vest.
  • Do shadow boxing.
  • Walk up and down obstacles such as benches and rocks, while maintaining a high speed.
  • Rough walking: Do brisk walking on uneven paths, such as those found in forest and mountain trails.

Higher Intensity with Kids

If you must bring your kids with you, then:

  • Invest in a special stroller designed for fast pushing.
  • Consider putting your baby in a papoose or backpack specially designed to hold babies during walks.
  • If your kids are on tricycles, do not let them get ahead of you, keep up with them or lead them.

A Word From Verywell

Adding intensity to your walking workouts can help you get past any weight loss or fitness plateaus. To avoid injury, be sure to slowly increase your intensity over time, ideally under the direction of a certified personal trainer.

By committing to regular physical activity that gradually builds in intensity, you'll also develop a stronger, healthier heart as you work toward your health and fitness goals. Just be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.