8 things NOT to do when walking for weight loss

Walking is a great way to burn calories and lose weight, but you may not be getting the most out of your walks because of some common mistakes. Getting out and walking at your own pace and intensity level is great for your health, but experienced walkers sometimes do these 8 things that prevent them from getting the most out of their fitness walks. Many of these mistakes revolve around not getting as active and as intense as you can, while taking in more calories than you expect.

The good news is that most of these mistakes can be avoided simply by being aware of how to do more effective fitness walking. This article covers what NOT to do when you’re fitness walking – whether it’s your 30-minute minimum recommended walking or an hourlong intense walking workout. Don’t sweat it if you see some of your own habits in more than one of the following weight-loss walking categories. Just work on increasing the intensity and enjoy the resulting calorie burn.

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1) Eating Big Pre- or Post-Workout Meals

Man sitting on park bench eating an apple snack

As you start walking more and making your walks more intense, it’s tempting to eat more as well. Weight loss is all about burning more calories from walking than you eat, and it’s easier to drink a 500-calorie smoothie than burn 350 calories from an hour of fitness walking. It’s ok to eat a pre- or post-workout meal or snack, but remember that those calories count too!

What to do instead:

Drink plenty of water, and start off with filling, low-calorie snacks to see if that combination will help you feel full. If you feel you need to eat a large pre- or post-workout meal, you may want to walk before or after a regular meal (walking after dinner is very popular). That way, you don’t add an extra meal to your day.

Focus on lean protein and leafy vegetables, and try to keep starchy carbs to a quarter of your plate. If you are a frequent snacker, focus on healthy snacking and reduce the size of your regular meals if necessary.

Takeaway:

When walking for weight loss, be sure that you are not consuming more calories than you are burning in a day, or the weight won’t go.

2) Over-Estimating Your Calorie Burn

Man resting after jog in the winter snow

Walking can feel empowering and exhausting. As a result, it’s easy to over-estimate just how many calories you are really burning. You may feel like you’ve walked a marathon just by going around the block, but you’re probably burning fewer calories than you’d expect. Overestimating your calories burned can lead you to overeat after a workout because you think you’ve “earned” a treat or you think you need to eat back some of the calories you’ve burned. That’s usually a mistake – especially if you’re walking for weight loss. Unless you’re burning huge numbers of calories, you usually do not want to eat back the calories that you’ve burned – even for intense walking workouts.

What to do instead:

If you’re not sure how many calories you’ve burned, you should underestimate your calorie burn number. You can use Pacer’s calorie tracking as an estimate, or find a body weight calculator or calorie calculator online that takes into account a variety of factors. Pacer’s calculator is conservative by design to avoid tricking you into thinking you’re burning more than you are. You can even treat your calorie burn number as 0 in many cases – those calories you burn are just a bonus on top of a healthy eating plan.

Takeaway:

Understand how many calories you really burn, and when in doubt you should underestimate your calorie burn. This will help you set realistic goals that you can achieve.

3) Fuelling with Sports Drinks Instead of Water

Athlete drinking water during a walk at sunset

Sports drinks were designed for athletes, so you should drink them when you walk – right? You actually don’t need sports drinks in most cases, as water works just as well for most walks and water contains no calories. It’s easy to forget about calories from beverages, because you can drink them so quickly and they don’t seem to have weight when you consume them. Unfortunately, this is not so.

Even a “healthy” sports drink is typically calorie-packed sugar water. Soda, juice, and milk and coffee and tea drinks (besides unsweetened tea and coffee) all have calories. You’ll want to take this into account when planning what to eat.

What to do instead:

Take plain, zero-calorie water with you on your walks and drink water frequently before, during and after your walk. You can make your own zero or very low-calorie fitness water by adding fruit slices and a pinch of salt if necessary for electrolytes, or you can use sports drinks diluted with water (half to a quarter sports drinks to water) if you are getting very intense or you feel you have to have carbs during your walk.

Takeaway:

Keep your liquid calories to a minimum and remember to count them as part of your weight loss plan. Swap out sports drinks and sodas for zero-calorie options when possible.

4) Weekend-Only Walking

office workers walking to lunch

Keeping up a daily walking routine is essential for a walking weight loss plan, because it helps train your body to keep active and fit. Skipping your daily walk doesn’t just mean you’ve missed on out the calories that you expected to burn, but it makes things that much harder to start walking again when you do start your walks. Packing all of your steps in one or two days of the week also makes it hard to build endurance and strength in your legs, and tends to lead to sedentary behavior on days when you know you’re not walking. If you’re sick, injured or just need a rest it’s fine to skip a day, but try not to make it a habit. Most health organizations recommend walking at least 5 days a week.

What to do instead:

Spread out your walking time over at least 5 days of the week. Even if this means taking shorter walks every day, try to stay active and make walking a habit. If you need to skip a day, just restart your program the next day and get back at it.

Takeaway:

While steps are steps, it’s better to spread them out over many days than be sedentary for several days and try to pack all your steps in a short period of time.

5) Taking It Easy on Each Walk

Sporty woman walking or running for fitness

While a pleasant stroll through the park is still great for your health, you’ll burn more calories and get more steps with a brisk, heart-pounding walk or a fitness walking workout. You don’t need to get intense on every walk – studies have shown that even light activity can reduce your risk of serious health problems – but if you’re always taking it easy then you’re probably doing yourself a disservice.

What to do instead:

If your goal is to lose weight, try to get more intense and push yourself a bit. How fast a good cardio walk may vary with your age and fitness level. An interval walking workout, like this 30-minute fitness walk, is a great choice to burn more calories without having to jog.

Takeaway

Try walking faster, power-walking, or interval bursts to increase the calories you burn and the effectiveness of your weight loss walking program

6) Doing the Same Walk Every Day

Woman incline hill walking with backpack

The more diverse and challenging your walks are, the easier it will be to keep up your motivation, get more steps and lose more weight. Different terrain, walking speeds and even walking environments (indoor vs outdoor walking for example) can target muscles differently. If you’re always walking the same old path the same way, you’re likely to get bored or fall into a routine. It’s possible that you could actually get more intense, or walk a lot longer, but you just don’t know it because you’ve never tried.

What to do instead:

Shake up your walking routine from time to time. Instead of doing the same circuit every time you walk, find new and interesting routes to take. Try creative ways to walk the same routes differently from day to day. Some days you might try a leisurely walk, while other days you might try to walk as fast as possible from beginning to end. If you’re feeling energized, take a detour and get a few hills in, or if you’re feeling a bit tired take a pit stop for a coffee or to run an errand. These little changes keep your walks fresh, even if you’re walking a similar route every day.

Takeaway:

Vary your walking routes, and vary your walks as well to keep your exercise fresh and interesting. Interesting walks = more motivation = more steps = more potential weight loss.

7) Ignoring Your Arms

Women power walking in the park for fitness

Walking doesn’t have to be solely a lower-body workout. Swinging your arms as you walk can give you a bit of an upper-body workout, and engaging your abs can work your core as well. It can feel a little silly to pump your arms as you walk, but there’s a reason your arms naturally swing when you pick up the pace.

What to do instead:

Try power walking – consciously engaging your arms during a brisk walk. You can give yourself a bit of an upper body workout, and make sure to engage your abs to work your core as well. You can also try Nordic walking using poles to get your upper body involved.

Using your upper body isn’t a requirement. It burns extra calories, but not as many more as you might think. It’s still useful, however, as getting a bit of a workout of your upper body can help increase your strength and prevent muscle loss, which is always good. If you’re not into power walking, try doing a bodyweight workout once or twice a week.

Takeaway

Try to work in a bit of upper-body exercise at some point in the week. Using your arms while walking can help, or try a Pacer bodyweight workout!

8) Avoiding Hills, Stairs or Other Terrain

woman walking stairs - uphill walking concept

Incline walking, like walking hills, burns more calories than walking on a flat surface. Walking stairs burns most of all – up to twice as many calories as walking on a flat surface. If you’re an experienced enough walker and your fitness level is up to it, walking on more difficult terrain is a great way to burn more calories faster. If you’re only walking flat surfaces, you could be missing out on calories that you could be burning.

An important note is that hills and stairs are higher impact on your joints than flat walking, and can tire you out faster. If you’re just getting started or have a health condition or injury, stick to flat surfaces and lower the impact of your walking instead.

What to do instead:

If there’s a hill in your neighborhood, try to work it into your routine. Go uphill on your way out and downhill on your way back. Take routes that include outdoor ramps and stairs, or take the stairs at work more often. If you’re healthy enough, you can also try to walk on areas of uneven terrain like open fields or playground woodchips, which force your legs to be constantly engaged while walking.

You don’t need to walk on a constant incline or walk up and down a hill the entire time to get some extra benefits. Try making a hill part of your regular walk and see how your body feels afterward. If it’s no problem, you can gradually take more incline steps throughout your walk.

Takeaway:

Inclines, stairs and other more difficult terrain is a great way to burn more calories, faster. These types of terrain are higher impact, so stick to flat terrain if you have an injury, health condition, or are just starting out walking for fitness.

Final Thoughts

When you’re walking casually to help lose weight, it can be easy to counteract your own efforts by misjudging calories or accidentally taking it too easy on yourself. By understanding calories consumed and calories burned, and challenging yourself on frequent walks, you can seriously improve your weight loss achievement through walking.

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10 thoughts on “8 things NOT to do when walking for weight loss

  1. I just started my walking workouts, I am in Florida thus the sun is out and if I go fast enough, I am sweating. I have purchased walking sticks, these help me to get a rythum and go faster. Each day I try to take a different route as you have mentioned. Everything here is flat except for the 18 steps to out condo whixh I manage to go and down 6 times a day. Thanks for the tips, I do have your app on my phone but i do not take my phone due to the sticks.I usually walk for one hour so far so good!

    1. Thanks for the advice! Walking sticks are a great way to take some impact off of your lower body and also give you an upper body workout to some degree. Even if you can’t always take your phone, it’s still good to get active whether or not you get the steps counted.

      Pacer can get your steps if you have your phone in your pocket, in a bag or on an armband or a waistband. There are some great inexpensive walking or running pouches that let you carry keys or a card, some cash and your phone. That might help for your hourlong walks.

      Thanks for using Pacer and thanks for the advice and info!

  2. A very useful and interesting article even though much of what is said I do already. One thing I can say is that I find Pacer invaluable and i always check it once I have completed a walk. My only query is the relationship of the calorie count to the length and intensity of the walk I complete. For instance I often walk five miles in an hour so it is pretty intense walk and at the end I check the calorie count BUT does that calorie count take into account the intensity of the walk? Would the calorie count be the same if I walked the five miles at a leisurely pace? Is the calorie count relative to the distance only?

    1. Hi Paul,

      The calorie count should reflect your steps, distance and other info provided. Calories burned is only an estimate, and Pacer calculates calories conservatively so that you don’t overestimate your calories burned. If you can send us an email at support@mypacer.com or pacernews@mypacer.com I can look into your case and see if anything seems to be in error. Thanks!

      1. İ hate runing but love walking and i start to walk begining of julay ( before i was walking but not very regular)so İ was walking 20/25 km a day and doing swiming at the same time i was starting the day around 6 am and finising around 7/8 pm nonstop 2.5 months of course out of UK than come back to UK 14 september since than 7 km/ 10 km because of wheather not easy but for health İ am trying to walk

      2. 25km a day is a lot of walking! If you’re walking from literally 6am to 7pm nonstop, I hope you’re taking breaks and ensuring that you’re not overtraining. Congrats on all the steps though, and hope you find a manageable number that’s sustainable and that you enjoy! Thanks for the comments and thanks for using Pacer.

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