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3 ways to make your walk a workout

3 Ways to Make Your Walk a Workout

by George Zakharia, DPTLeave a Comment

Walking is a great activity to boost health, mood, and even keep you alive. It has even been coined “the 6th vital sign” as walking speed can correlate with functional ability, balance confidence, future health status, risk of hospitalization, discharge location, and mortality. To read further on other benefits of walking, see our previous blog on the 6 Health Benefits of Walking.

While walking may seem simple to some, it can easily be transformed into a workout by altering some of the components to increase the intensity. Read on for further instructions.

First we will discuss the different components of walking.

1. Walking surface

  • Examples: Walking track/trail, sidewalk, parking lot/road, grass, sand, soil/uneven terrain, treadmill
    • The smoother the surface, the easier the walking exercise will be. The more uneven the surface (sand, soil), the more difficult it will be due to the increased force required to counteract the surface absorbing energy from your step. With the treadmill, it can be easy due to the smooth surface along with the handlebars to grab onto. However it will challenge your balance due to the moving surface. This forces you to maintain the same speed and intensity for the entirety of the walk rather than allowing you to slow down to a preferred pace on a non-moving surface.

2. Incline/Slope

  • Examples: Incline on treadmill, walking up hill, stairs/curbs, hiking
    • Simply put, the higher the incline, the tougher the workout will be. If walking on a treadmill, using a 1% incline can mimic air resistance that occurs when walking outside.2 In addition, most treadmills go up to 10% incline or even higher which allows for a more intense workout. Walking up stairs or hiking creates an even tougher workout.

3. Speed/Cadence/Step Length

  • Examples: 2-5mph, 100 steps/min
    • Walking is technically defined as having at least one foot down on the ground at all times, while jogging/running involves leaving the ground with both feet for a short period of time. Therefore, to increase your speed, walk as fast as you can while keeping one foot down on the ground at all times by taking more steps per min. You can also increase your speed by taking longer steps, however shorter and quicker steps will yield less joint impact on the knees. If you’re looking for a moderate intensity pace, it is also recommended to take approximately 100 steps/min as it has been found to elicit moderate intensity activity.3

To measure our exercise intensity, we can easily use a perceived exertion scale or talk test. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is perceived as exertion that is moderate to somewhat hard intensity. If you’re trying to talk, it starts getting difficult to say a whole sentence in one breath. Vigorous intensity is perceived as a hard to very hard intensity. You can only speak a few words at a time.4

Putting It All Together

Now it’s time to put together all the components to transform a walk into a workout. First, choose a walking surface (for example a walking trail or treadmill). Next, choose your incline. If you’re on a walking trail, you may have minimal incline, requiring you to increase your speed to increase the difficulty. If you’re on a treadmill, increase the incline to 1% or greater if tolerated to increase the intensity. Next, choose a speed that will cause you more difficulty with speaking by using the talk test. I personally like to walk on a treadmill so I can gauge my speed and incline while forcing myself to stay on for a period of time and work just as hard in the first minute as I do in the last minute. My personal go-to speed is around 3-4mph at 3-4% incline.

While you can choose to vary your intensity by either walking at a constant speed or incline for a period of time, an alternative option is to vary your intensity with high intensity interval training. One example includes walking fast for 30-60 seconds (work period) followed by walking more slowly for 30-60 seconds (recovery period) and repeating for 10 minutes or longer. An alternative includes varying the incline. For example, walking on a treadmill with a high incline during a work period and then lowering the incline during the recovery period. Feel free to alternate your speed and incline for a variety!

Don’t Let Pain or Injury Keep You from Exercise

Schedule a free assessment at an Athletico clinic near you and start physical therapy right away. Free assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform. Physical therapists are movement experts and can help you improve pain and function to get you on your way to reap the health benefits of walking!

Request a Free Assessment

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Professor, Clinical Assistant. “White Paper: ‘Walking Speed: the Sixth Vital Sign’ : Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy.” LWW,
2. JH;, Jones AM;Doust. “A 1% Treadmill Grade Most Accurately Reflects the Energetic Cost of Outdoor Running.” Journal of Sports Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine,
3. Tudor-Locke, Catrine, et al. “Walking Cadence (Steps/Min) and Intensity in 41 to 60-Year-Old Adults: the CADENCE-Adults Study.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, BioMed Central, 10 Nov. 2020,,in%20adults%20of%20middle%2Dage.
4. Zuhl, Micah. “Tips for Monitoring Aerobic Exercise Intensity.” American College of Sports Medicine, 2020,

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George Zakharia was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

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