Whether you started a new walking habit around your home to cope with lockdown angst or you’ve spent the last 35 days missing your regular walks or jogs like the deserts miss the rain, hearing that we can finally walk outdoors is a welcome relief to all of us! So we’ve created a walking challenge to help you ease those rusty legs back into action. Extracted from the Women’s Heath Big Book of Walking Workouts, this six-week programme gives you weekly walking targets, plus workouts to keep you strong and fit. You may even find that you drop some of that lockdown padding.
How To Get Started
The great thing about walking is that it’s such an accessible form of exercise and yet it still gives you major fitness gains! All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and these gains can be yours. But following a few basic tips can make your walking challenge experience a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable.
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- Eat a small snack before you set out. To eat or not to eat before exercise is a matter of personal preference, but a big breakfast will likely weigh you down and you don’t want to get a stitch! Have a small snack, like a banana, a small yoghurt or half a slice of toast with peanut butter, and save brekkie for when you get home.
- Drink a glass of water. Your body will be dehydrated after a night’s sleep so drink one glass of water to keep you hydrated during your walk, but not desperate for the loo!
- Start slowly. Because walking is a low-impact activity, there’s no need to do a long warm-up. Simply start at a slow pace for five to ten minutes and pick it up once your body has warmed up.
- Wear reflective gear. If you’re new to walking on the road for exercise, make sure you wear bright and preferably reflective clothing. It’s still gloomy in the early mornings and there will be more cars on the road during Level 4.
Find Your Fitness
When you start the walking challenge, it’s good to know your fitness level so you can see how you improve over time. Dr James Rippe, a professor of biomedical sciences, developed the following formula to help walkers assess their fitness by age. Walk 1.6km (a mile) as quickly as you can, then compare your time: If you exceed the ideal time for your age group by three to six minutes or more, you’re not in the best shape aerobically. But don’t worry; just keep walking. Exercising consistently can lower your time.
Under 30 years: If you can walk 1.6km in 13 minutes or less, you’re in great shape!
30-39 years: 14 minutes means you’re in good cardio health!
40-59 years: 14-15 minutes means you’re in peak condition.
60-69 years: 15 minutes is an excellent pace!
70+ years: If you can walk it in 18 minutes or so, you’re very fit.
The WH Walking Challenge
Follow the six-week plan below, designed by international trainer Leigh Crews, to get fitter and tone up your legs, tummy and bum. If you don’t have access to hills or stairs within your 5km radius, do a brisk pace walk for those sessions instead. Print this plan or screen grab it and save it on your phone for easy access.
Jiggle-Blasting Strength Moves
Do these in addition to your walk on days 3, 5 and 7 of the walking challenge. Use your walk as your warm-up, then do these moves when you get home. A set is 8-12 reps unless otherwise indicated.
Step one foot across the other to an 11 o’ clock position and drop your legs to 90 degrees. As you lunge, twist your torso towards your front leg. Do all reps on one leg, then switch.
Paper Plate Leg Curl
Lie on your back with your heels on paper plates and abs engaged so your lower back is flush with the floor. Push down through your heels as you pull the plates towards your bum, then slide them out again. You should feel the muscles at the back of your thighs working hard.
Donkey Kick Circle
Kneel on all fours with a light dumbbell, full water bottle or can tucked behind one knee. Rotate your leg from the hip, drawing 5 or 6 circles in each direction, then swap sides.
Bridge with Towel
Lie on your back, toes lifted, a rolled-up towel behind your knees. Squeeze your bum and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Lower slowly with control, then repeat. Don’t drop that towel!
Heat It Up Hill Walk
This workout incorporates inclines and specific intervals to help target your glute muscles while you walk. If you don’t have access to a hill or stairs, simple swap these sessions in the walking challenge for brisk-pace walks instead. You’ll still score major benefits!
How It Works
Walk for 30 minutes, hitting a hill, bridge or stairs if you can. Time how long it takes to go up a hill or staircase, then recover by walking on level ground for about half that time. For instance, if you took 40 seconds to get up a hill, recover for 20 seconds. Timing doesn’t have to be exact, but this is a good gauge. If you don’t have access to a hill, power walk as fast as you can for the incline parts, then slow your pace for seconds for the recovery.
Follow this pattern for your 30-minute walk:
PART 1: 5 minutes; Easy pace, like you’re window shopping
PART 2: 5 minutes; Flat walk at a semi-brisk pace, like you’re walking with purpose.
PART 3 (Repeat 5 times): 1:30 minutes incline or fast power walk; 1 minute flat or semi-brisk recovery walk. *Note: If your incline takes less than 1:30 minutes to the top, keep going up and down for this amount of time then walk on the flat for the recover minute.
PART 4: 5 minutes; Easy pace, like you’re window shopping
Butt Shaper Walk
Do this 35-35 minute routine on the stipulated days in the walking challenge programme, focusing on squeezing your bum. Try to keep that contraction in your glutes as you walk.
How It Works
- Start walking at an easy, window-shopping pace. Gradually increase to a brisk, late-for-an-appointment pace over the next 10 minutes.
- Now stop walking and do drill 1 for 20 seconds. (Each week, add another 20 seconds until you’re doing the drill for a full five minutes by week 6.)
- Walk briskly for 5 minutes, then do drill 2 for 20 seconds. Follow this pattern until you’ve done all drills, each time followed by 5 minutes of brisk walking.
- After the last drill and subsequent 5-min brisk walk, stroll at an easy pace for four minutes.
Drill 1: Speed Skater
Drill 2: Long Lunge with Reach
Drill 3: Single-Leg Step-Down
Drill 4: Heel Walk