Power-Walking: 5 Ways to Make it Work For You

By J. M. Graham ("Crabby McSlacker")

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Call it Race-Walking or Speed-Walking or Power-Walking: whatever form you choose, it can be a great alternative to running – particularly for those whose joints can no longer take the pounding running demands.

Yet hardly anyone seems to take advantage of this cheap, convenient, calorie-blasting, joint-friendly workout. Why is that?Simple: it’s Fear of Looking Ridiculous.

It must be, right? Because otherwise, race-walking makes sense for so many reasons. With proper form, you can get an intense aerobic workout. (Top competitors can walk way faster than most joggers can run). And similar to running, race walking can be done almost anywhere. It’s practically free! You don’t need a gym membership or a lot of fancy equipment, just a good pair of shoes and maybe a heart rate monitor. And all this without further trashing your aching joints.

But next time you’re out running or strolling on a busy trail, just count the number of Race Walkers who zip by. Usually: that would be zero.

Because no matter what the cheerful magazines articles say, just “walking briskly” in a normal manner won’t get your heart rate up the way running does. To get the same sort of aerobic benefits from walking, you’re going to have to really go for it. And you know what? You’re going to look a bit silly. Pump your arms. Vigorously! Swing your hips! The North American Racewalking Foundation has a lot more helpful information on proper form.

But what if your concern is not “how to,” but, “how can I make myself swing my hips and pump my arms in public where people might actually see me? Here are a few tips:

  1. Find a Race Walking Club in your area or get hooked up with a partner. It’s amazing how much less goofy you’ll feel when you’ve got someone with you, proving you’re not the only other person in the world who actually does this.
  2. Try to avoid busy commercial streets. The more “exercisey” your course looks, the less self-conscious you’ll feel. Tracks, known running trails, bike paths-for some reason, these help.
  3. Get up Way early in the morning. Less traffic fumes then too!
  4. Even if you don’t compete, consider buying a T-shirt from a Race or Race Walking Association-sort of a walking explanation for why you’re walking in such a frantic way without actually breaking into a run.
  5. Decide not to give a hoot what anyone else thinks! You’re doing a great thing for your body. If anyone stares at you funny, just smile happily and figure they’re secretly jealous. After all, you’re out doing your cardio without needing an ice pack, a bottle of ibuprofen, a big cumbersome knee brace or a smelly tube of Ben-Gay when you get home.

Walk Proud!

Filed in Cardio,

29 Comments

  1. Melissa

    I am 32 I have five kids and I tell ya what it has helped me drop from a size 16 to a size 11 since I had our last baby 8 months ago, I don’t care how people look at me, especially when they drive by, I say look all ya want cause I am the one out here feeling good about me as your riding by ha

    Reply
  2. Beck on Maui

    Hi All….so happy I found your blog, I have been jogging a couple miles a day for about seven months, but here on the Island race walking has gone nuts everyone does it so I thought I would give it a shot! Can someone give me a hint on how fast and how long I should strive to go for the maximum benefit, I’m kinda lost when it comes to that. I’m lucky enough to have a hill on every block so it’s quick to get my rate up.
    Thank in advance for any advice!

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  3. ann

    I have been power walking for about a year now, and lost a total of 100 pounds. I power walk at a local park were many people go to walk, jog, and run, and I feel as if I am the only person in the world that power walks. I get stares and one time some teenage girls started making fun of me, which makes me feel like I don’t even want to power walk any more, but I still do. It’s nice to people out there that power walk too.

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  4. ann

    I have been power walking for about a year now, and lost a total of 100 pounds. I power walk at a local park were many people go to walk, jog, and run, and I feel as if I am the only person in the world that power walks. I get stares and one time some teenage girls started making fun of me, which makes me feel very self like I don’t even want to power walk any more, but I still do. It’s nice to people out there that power walk too.

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  5. john

    no matter how silly I look , I am enjoying myself , and having fun doing p/w . . Many have said ” boy I wish I can do that ” to which I take time to show and motivate them . One step at a time . the hardes part is to get them out the door.
    From doing triathalon to power walking , it`s been a joy , and rewarding . john

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  6. Shauna

    I love to power walk. I do not care how silly it looks. I had two surgeries on my right knee at the age of 16 so I know how fragile the body can be. I have an Elliptical trainer in my garage but is just so borring. Any advise on how to meet other power walkers in you area?

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  7. Bethany

    I’m training to walk a half marathon (just three weeks away now). I’ve been walking 25-30 miles a week, and loving it. I’ve gotten over feeling silly, but what really bothers me is the people who find it necessary to shout rude things at me as I pound the pavement. It has taken way more willpower for me to get over the catcalls and rude shouts than it has to get out there every day, rain or shine or high humidity. People are mean!

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  8. john dobbs

    Thanks, RandomPerson, for your comment. I’m at 297 and walking 3 miles per day. I load up some awesome music on my iPod and get into my own world on the track and swing my arms … sometimes break out into a short jog … sometimes when I feel really good I jump up and down a bit … crazy stuff … and the other goobers who are out there are trying to lose weight and be health conscious too … I would think that if my wacky walking made them smile it’s just an added bonus to the day. I hope I can lose 100 lbs! Got a long way to go, but I’m on the journey.

    By the way, I LOVE this blog … just never comment.

    Reply
  9. Donna McFarland

    Leslie Sansone video’s are ALL about power walking! Fantastic, these are! 1, 2, or 3 mile video’s are paced to your level of fitness…anyone can do them,in the comfort & privacy of your own living room.~ CHECK it out…it was a wonderful aid for me to find! Got mine at Amazon.com.

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  10. debra

    Walking is a great way to stay fit.
    But yes you do have to build up to distance walking to see results.
    I personally do not think for MYSELF that walking fast is what has helped.
    You see for someone else to burn fat it may take getting the heart rate up to a much higher point. for myself it does not take much effort to get to the fat burning state.
    There actually was a time when I was fast walking everyday and saw little result and it was because I was walking too fast and was not in my fat burning zone. That could also have something to do with it. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

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  11. Amy

    I think this is becoming more well known – after all it was in the olympics – so perhaps we shouldn’t feel so silly. Besides, I’d much rather look silly getting good healthy exercise than look fat (and silly)! I do the brisk walking when I’m on vacation and there is no gym available. But for future use, I’m gonna mark that race walking site and starting practicing proper form to see if I can get my hear rate up!

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  12. Courtney B

    Power-Walking, or Race-Walking, has been in some movies:

    In “When Harry Met Sally”, Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby were power-walking in one scene. Check out the spandex!

    In “Run, Don’t Walk”, Jim Hutton plays a guy who is embarassed to admit that he is a Racewalker in the Olympic Games in Japan. The end of the film shows him and the other athletes racewalking a marathon. It looks silly, but he still gets the girl.

    I definitely walk faster than I run, and I walked most of the first (and only) race I’ve ever done, a half marathon. Speed walking mixed with some running is much easier my knees, but I still finished before some people who ran the entire thing.

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  13. Marla

    Hee. I remember when Dave Barry called it “dork walking.” But that’s good advice, to choose as “exercisy” a course as possible. I would feel less self-conscious on a track than on a neighborhood street.

    Reply
  14. Passion for Health

    Crabby McSlacker said:
    And no, no pics of me either![…]

    Oh come ON! Let’s see those claws swinging!

    Reply
  15. Passion for Health

    Jim said:
    I would photo myself, but, er… um… the light is not so good at 4am[…]

    🙂

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  16. Israel

    I have never been able to just power walk. I have always needed more stimulation, but “training.” I like running, sprinting, climbing, doing things that will get my heart rate up rapidly.

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  17. Spectra

    LOL, Quito, I know what you mean about the slow joggers. There’s this one guy I always see jogging when I’m out…he may as well just walk because it’d be faster. There’s also a lady in my neighborhood that’s out every day, speed walking with her nordic poles and she’s probably in her 80s or so…she’s probably in terrific shape. I don’t know why more people don’t do it; it seems like it’d be a pretty decent workout.

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  18. Jim

    Passion for Health said:
    Hmmm Jim… if you post pics of you doing this, then I will :-)[…]

    Yea oops – my bad. This post was by “McSlacker” herself. Therefore it is her crabby self that must submit the aforementioned pics 🙂

    I would photo myself, but, er… um… the light is not so good at 4am.

    Reply
  19. Crabby McSlacker

    Oops!

    We seem to have some byline confusion. As much as I too would love to see pics of Jim power-walking, I’m afraid it was I who submitted this post, not Jim. And no, no pics of me either!

    I totally agree about the hills–much easier to get the heart-rate up without walking funny. The problem, at least for my creaky knees, is getting back down again!

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  20. Passion for Health

    Hmmm Jim… if you post pics of you doing this, then I will 🙂

    Use hills! Get your heart rate up without looking silly 🙂 Or like you say, join a group and you can all look silly together.

    Reply
  21. Crabby McSlacker

    I’m so glad to discover I’m not the only one who feels self-conscious doing this!

    I know I should get over it, but it actually helps to discover there are others who feel a bit silly too.

    Perhaps if more of us just said “what the heck, I’ll go ahead and look like a dork” people would get used to us. I’m not holding my breath though.

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  22. linda

    I have nordic poles and people always stare at me, so much so that I’m incredibly embarrassed doing it, I’m going to start getting up super early when nobody will be out to stare. Stupid…I know…

    Reply
  23. Claire S.

    In our local mall, I usually see some older ladies power-walking past the stores – in proper form, I’m sure, because it does look pretty silly. I’ve always thought it was funny, but they are probably getting in better shape than I am by shopping!

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  24. Quito

    Jogging very slowly also looks pretty silly. I’ve seen quite a few people out on the road running so slowly that cartoons of parched explorers crawling across the desert come to mind. Race walking would look a lot better…

    (Not that I look like much while running)

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  25. randomperson

    I have been walking for since March and have dropped 80+lbs (310 to 228) although now I have added weightlifting.

    Without looking stupid (aka using good walking form) I can (now) walk about 5 miles at 4.1 to 4.5 mph. That is in 100+ temps or pouring raing or whatever. Mind you I made about 1/2 a mile on my very first walk at something like 1.5 mph no doubt.

    The only way I can go faster (about 5 to 5.5 mph) is to use the correct form. However, being a socially conditioned guy, the correct form is so silly looking that I only do it on isolated sections of my route.

    So I agree that the social considerations of looking silly can overwhelm the more important goal of a better workout. Eh, maybe I will get over it some day (when I have the super hot bo) but for now not wanting to look silly restricts my behavior.

    Which in itself is silly.

    Reply
  26. Charity Froggenhall

    Thanks for the website link. I would also like to know how to raise my heart rate more just by walking!

    Reply
  27. mj

    I always walk fast, to the point that I’m breathing hard, sweating and my heart rate is up, on the way home from work. After a day in the office (my first and last desk job – I don’t know how people sit down all day) it feels really good to be moving and I’m using that 30 minutes to do 2 things at once. I don’t pump my arms though, I haven’t got past the looking silly thing. Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow.

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  28. staci

    i love speed walking. I dont care how silly i look. i have autoimune authoritis so this exercise is great for me, as a matter of fact, my joints feel less stiff after walking. i even lost 10 lbs just by doing this exercise for 45 minutes a day.

    Reply
  29. Bryan

    Yep brisk walking is definitely not enough to stimulate fat loss. That’s one misconception that most people have. Something more intensive like power-walking will help a lot more.

    Reply