Experienced walkers know that getting your steps every day isn’t just about walking harder, but walking smarter. Planning your walks can help you hit your daily step goal while minimizing your risk of injury. Deciding whether to take a brisk fitness walk or a long stroll, or whether to brave the weather or walk indoors can be the difference between 10,000 steps and coming up frustratingly short.
Chances are you’re already making these 4 decisions before your walks. Find out the pros and cons of each choice. We’d love to hear in the comments below what you choose every day, and whether you agree with our suggestions!
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Length vs Speed
The faster that you walk (or jog), the faster you’ll tire. That’s true even for athletes, and serious walkers know that there’s a tradeoff between a brisk fitness walk or a leisurely stroll. It’s a good idea to decide in advance how intense your walk will be so that you can be prepared and ensure you’re ready for your walk.
The shorter your walk, the faster you’ll be able to push yourself. If you’re doing a brisk, 15-minute walking workout you can afford to walk almost as fast as you can. If you’re doubling that to a 30-minute walking workout, you’ll need to pace yourself more so that you don’t tire out too quickly. Once you get up to walking an hour or more, you’ll probably only be able to work in brief bursts of fast walking if you want to. Trying to walk the first 15 minutes of an hour walk at your fastest pace is a recipe for getting tired and not finishing your walk.
If you’re planning to do a quick, intense walk you may not need to bring much with you. The longer you plan to walk, you’ll have to consider whether to bring water, your wallet (if you plan to make a stop along the way) or other potential gear. For faster walks, it helps to find a level path that’s relatively free of people. If you try fast walking in a mall or a busy street, you may find yourself constantly having to stop to avoid bumping into people. On a leisurely stroll, you can walk nearly anywhere!
You don’t necessarily have to tie your walking speed to your walking length. Even slow, short walks can be a great way to get active. Keep in mind that the longer you walk, the more important it is to have the proper gear with you.
Proper walking shoes, socks and walking clothes are always good to wear, but when you’re walking for a half-hour to an hour or more they become more important. You can probably get away with walking for 10 minutes in your work shoes (though it’s not ideal), but go for an hour and you’ll likely be facing sore and aching feet. The same goes for well-fitting, sweat-wicking and non-chafing walking clothes. Longer walks can also benefit from some hands-free gear to hold your phone and other items securely.
For long walks, you may also need to consider sunscreen, lip balm, or a hat for sun protection. In the summer, make sure that you’re wearing cool enough clothes that wick sweat away from the body. If you’re walking in winter, make sure to dress warmly. Don’t forget your feet! Warm socks and warm shoes are just as important. Try to dress in layers so that if you start to warm off, you can remove one layer while still staying warm enough.
Comfort vs Style
Let’s face it – even experienced walkers don’t want to look silly when fitness walking. Having a great pair of walking shoes and walking clothes that you actually like to wear will help to ensure that you wear them every time you go out.
If you’re walking during breaks at work, for instance, you may not have time to change into a new walking outfit. There are some tweaks you can make so that your walks are a bit more comfortable. Leave a pair of walking shoes at the office that you can quickly slip into and go. (Our friends at Xpand No-tie Laces can make getting your shoes on quicker!) There are many companies that make work pants or work outfits that are more comfortable and easier to exercise in. If you can’t find any that fit the dress code, you can try wearing a shirt for walking under your work shirt so you can quickly change and go.
If you’re getting intense or walking in a hot environment, make sure that you have a change of clothes or a way to quickly shower before getting back to work. Something as simple as a change of clothes can help you walk faster and more comfortably when walking on breaks.
Serious walkers know to prioritize comfort and fit over style and looks. You can find walking shoes in all styles and colors, but if you have wider feet or your shoe size is very big or small you may need to make sacrifices on the style side. Most people don’t even notice your walking shoes, and burning calories and getting the amazing health and mood benefits of walking are the most important thing.
Still, finding walking shoes, walking pants or shorts and a good walking jacket or windbreaker that you actually like to wear will encourage you to put them on every time. If you find yourself wondering whether you really want to grab that old walking jacket, it might be time to upgrade.
Fight the Weather or Go to Plan B
Most people prefer walking outdoors to walking inside. There are actually mental and physical health benefits of walking (or just spending time) in nature. That being said, sometimes the weather just doesn’t comply.
Fight the Weather
When the weather is perfect, it’s much easier to decide where to walk. Still, even on a perfect day there are considerations that might make you want to look for plan b. If you’re pressed for time, it may be easier to get in a quick walk while doing errands at the store. If you have access to a treadmill, you might want to do some indoor walking workouts with the speed controlled so you can relax and watch a show on your phone.
When the weather doesn’t comply, however, you’ll need to decide whether to walk outside anyway or go to plan b. Only you know the specifics of your local weather and climate, but there are probably patterns that you can plan for. If it’s really hot in the summer, be prepared with sun protection, cool clothes and plenty of water. For cold winters, make sure to dress warmly, wear layers, and pay special attention to wearing walking shoes with good grip on snow and ice. During the spring (or other rainy season), it can help to carry a light windbreaker in case of rain.
Your safety is most important, so if you’re not sure whether you should brave the weather it’s probably best to just walk indoors.
Go for Plan B
Every serious walker should have a backup plan for when the weather just doesn’t comply. In fact, you should probably have more than one so that you’re always prepared no matter what comes up.
There are plenty of good indoor walking locations that are both fun and walkable. When you have more time to plan ahead, museums, libraries or historical sites can be a great place to see some sights while getting your steps in. You can spend an entire morning or afternoon looking at artwork or interesting architecture – it may not even feel like a walk!
Sometimes, you’ll need to switch your plans quickly when the weather changes. In that case, it’s good to have a go-to indoor walking backup plan. It could be the local mall, big box retailer or even the supermarket. All of these choices have large areas to walk and are open relatively long hours. Deciding on your plan b ahead of times means that whenever you’re not sure where to walk, you can simply get up and go. You’ll get more steps that way and save time thinking of where to go when you could be walking!
Go Exploring vs Tried and True
Even if you’re a natural explorer, you probably have a tried and true walking path that you walk more than any other. It’s a path that you could walk practically in your sleep, and you know that as long as you’re feeling pretty good you can complete it with no trouble. Having that go to walk, as well as exploring some of the time, can keep your walks fun and interesting.
Tried and True
Having a go-to walking route is a great way to make walking into a daily habit. If you frequently walk in the morning or after dinner, you’ll appreciate that familiar path that you can do even if you’re tired or a bit full. It also helps to know where there may be hills or other intense areas so that you’re not caught unaware halfway through your walk.
Your familiar walking path is also your fallback whenever you’re not feeling 100% at your best. You’ll know exactly how far you need to go as well as where you can stop to take a break. This means that you can get walks in when you otherwise might decide to just skip your walk for the day. Rest days are important, of course, but to hit your step goals you’ll need to get your walks in on days you plan to walk.
One of the most overlooked aspects of having a familiar walking path is that you’ll be less likely to tire yourself out and be unable to complete the walk. Just knowing that you can make it all the way can be just what you need to finish a walk where you’d otherwise turn back early. Pushing yourself to complete that extra mile can make the difference between hitting a 10,000 step goal and falling just short.
Even the most experienced walkers know that walking the same path every day, week after week and year after year can get a bit boring. To keep things fresh, try to find a new walking path every once in a while. This can be as simple as walking your regular path backward (go the other way, don’t literally walk backwards for miles!). You may notice things that you didn’t notice before, and it will feel different for your body.
Try to find a local park or natural area where you can get closer to nature. You may have to drive a bit to find the perfect walking spot, but getting out into nature will make that drive worthwhile. If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can take a walking vacation to a national park, beach, or other great location that will encourage you to walk. This could be as simple as taking a day trip, or staying overnight for one night on the weekend so you can maximize your weekend walking.
For those with less time, even walking one block out of your way on your daily walk can make your walk feel completely different. If you’re an outdoor walker, try walking indoors once every week or two. Or if you’re used to indoor walking, get outside and get some sun.
One final way to mix things up is to change how you walk. If you usually walk solo, walk with a friend every once in a while. You’ll have a different experience walking and talking, which can help keep things fresh. Try listening to podcasts or audiobooks to keep you company when you can’t find a walking buddy. Those little changes can make you feel like you’re an urban explorer, even if you’re walking your tried and true route.
Sometimes the way to get more steps more comfortably isn’t just to try harder or get more intense. Putting some thought into walking smart and making the right choices can get you more steps while accounting for those pesky excuses that can stop you from walking. Use your brain and your legs, and you’ll hit that step goal before you know it!
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.