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[image via RadioMD]

Living in the city requires a lot of walking. So even though I don’t necessarily consider walking a part of my fitness routine, it definitely contributes to my overall daily activity. Plus, my mom is an extremely avid walker. Sometimes she walks 3-4 mile bouts two times a day. (Go, Hungry Mama!) So even though I prefer running, walking still holds a space near and dear to my heart because it’s the activity that keeps my mom active and healthy.

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Oh yeah, and she also plays softball and bike rides all of the time too! So #FitFluential.

In Radio MD‘s most recent “Train Your Body” segment, which is sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM trainer and exercise physiologist Melanie Cole, MS and her guest Teri Bladen (Director of Campus Recreation at Weber State University) talk about walking for fitness, how to make a walking workout more interesting, and whether or not it’s a good idea to walk with weights.

Does walking with weights burn more calories? Will it tone your arms? Are ankle weights an effective added challenge? All of these are topics that they address during the show, and some of the answers might surprise you.

Below, I’ve recapped Melanie and Teri’s most important points. If you’d like to listen to their entire segment click here.

Does Walking With Weights Burn More Calories?

It depends. Research has shown that walking with light dumbbells (1-3 pounds) won’t make a significant difference in energy expenditure, nor will it engage your arm muscles enough to build any extra muscle mass, which is what would create that oh-so-desired “toned” look. Walking with heavier weights (in the 5-10 pound range) might create a larger energy expenditure, however the increased risk for injury (especially in the shoulder girdle) outweighs any benefits they might provide. Also, walking while performing bicep curls could impede your gait and is something that Melanie and Teri do not recommend .

What about ankle weights?

Melanie and Teri also recommend skipping out on adding ankle weights to your walking routine. They increase risk for injury by altering your center of gravity, putting more unwanted stress on your hips and knees, and can also impede your gait. Instead of ankle weights, they recommend a weighted vest, which will add an extra challenge while still keeping the weight balanced toward your center of gravity.

So, if walking with weights is not the best idea, then how can you continue to include walking as a part of your fitness routine while still keeping it fun, interesting, and challenging?

Melanie and Teri offered up a ton of great ideas and I added in a few of my own as well:

  • Use things that are available to you along your route like benches, playgrounds, or even trees. Every so often stop to do some push ups, jumping jacks, or crunches. If you’re strong enough and have an object that can support you, do a few sets of pull-ups or chin ups.
  • Listen to audio books.
  • Walk with a buddy.
  • Talk on the phone. (Melanie and Teri recommend using a Bluetooth device because holding the phone up to your ear while walking can alter your posture which can create muscle imbalances in the body that may impede your gait and create unwanted tension, especially in the shoulders. And if you talk on the phone during a walking workout, make sure to continue to pay attention to your speed, stride, and posture. Always walk with purpose!)
  • Add in bouts of walking backward and/or laterally.
  • Walk outside instead of on the treadmill.
  • Add in small bouts of running. Try running for 30 seconds at a time with 1-2 minutes of walking in between. You can also pick an object ahead, like a tree, car, or light post, and challenge yourself to run until you reach it. These are both great options for anyone whose goals include increasing their ability to run. See also: Advice for Beginner Runners.

And finally, Melanie and Teri’s absolute number one tip for making the most of a walking workout: Walk with Intention!

When you walk, no matter if it’s a planned workout or you’re walking to the grocery store, walk with purpose. Stand upright, retract your shoulder blades, engage your core, swing your arms in a controlled manner, and take long purposeful strides to expend more energy and engage more muscles in a safe and effective manner.

And last but not least, my number one tip for making the most of your walking workout, or really, any activity that you do:

Don’t think of your workouts in terms of calories burned. Yes, we want to expend some extra energy, especially if we have weight loss goals, but what’s more important is that we’re moving our bodies and strengthening our muscles. Focus less of your energy on “burning a few extra calories” and more on completing a few extra reps or walking for five minutes more!

Do you walk for fitness? How do you keep your routine fun and challenging?