Challenge yourself AND prevent injuries while beating your step goal

To get the most out of your fitness walks, you’ll need to strike the right balance between challenging yourself to walk more and preventing injury and burnout. Staying motivated and getting steps while you can while knowing when you’re doing too much walking is the key to sustained, long term health and fitness. Find the right balance and you’ll hit your daily step goal day after day and feel great at the same time.

Read on for 5 keys to stay motivated and get more steps as well as 5 ways to minimize your risk of injury and make sure you’re not getting too intense, too fast.

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Do: Listen to something to keep your mind engaged

Woman happily listening to music during a walk
stockfour / Shutterstock

Having something to listen to during your walk can help you walk faster, stay active longer, and keep you from getting bored. Studies have shown that listening to music can increase athletic performance, and anyone who has listened to music while working out knows that it can help you focus in on a workout.

If you’re taking a longer walk, it’s easy for your energy and attention to start to drop off over time. Having something to take your mind off of walking can help take your mind off of your steps, which can keep you going. While fast-paced music might be great for jogging or lifting weights, a podcast or audiobook might be perfect for a brisk walk as well. Listening to a podcast can help distract you from the exercise at hand. If you don’t have the luxury of a beautiful scenic route (or if you’re stuck somewhere like an apartment hallway), audio can give you something to do as you get your steps.

Walking and talking with friends can obviously have the same effect, but this can be difficult especially in the current situation. Not everyone can find a walking buddy in the best of times, so having something to listen to as a backup is important.

Don’t: Lose situational awareness

While listening to music can help you walk faster and longer, it can also distract you from what’s going on around you. If you’re too engrossed in your audio, you might bump into someone or not hear impending sounds of danger (like a car coming). If you’re walking inside on a treadmill or in a hallway, you’re probably fine, but even on a hike in nature it’s important to maintain awareness.

It’s often a good idea to keep one earbud off, or have one earphone off of your ear so that you can still hear the world around you. If you’re walking at night or in reduced visibility, it’s especially important to ensure that you’re aware of traffic or other dangers.

As your walk gets longer and you start to tire, you may be tempted to check your phone to keep yourself interested. Walking while checking your phone is usually a bad idea. You won’t be able to see obstacles or dangerous situations coming, and depending on when and where you walk it can be a safety hazard as your expensive mobile phone is on full display.

Do: Have a go-to/planned walking route

Man checking phone on a park bench
antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

Having a go-to planned out walking route can help you ensure you get your steps, especially if you’re doing a long or intense fitness walk. The faster you plan to walk, the more you need to account for people and obstacles that can slow you down. Planning ahead allows you to work inclines, stairs or other intensity boosts into your walk as well.

Having a plan for where and how long to walk can also help motivate you to keep going to the finish. Once you have your go-to route down, you’ll know just how far you’ll need to walk to get the steps you need. The closer you get to the finish line, the more motivated you’ll be to keep going. If you didn’t have a defined route and a goal, you might simply give up or head back early.

Don’t: Let your walks get stale or boring

While having a favorite route is great, never mixing things up can get boring and sap your motivation to go walk. The easiest way to mix things up and keep your walks fun is simply to introduce variations of your normal walking route. Walk the route in reverse, or come up with a few alternative paths of the same length that let you see different sights.

Doing a completely different walk, even if it’s only occasionally, can make walking for fitness feel fresh and new. Try taking a hike in the country, or find a scenic spot to take in some nature. If you usually take a no-nonsense brisk walk, try forcing yourself to do a slow, leisurely stroll. You’ll have more appreciation for your daily walking route when you try something different, and you might just find a different walking style that you really enjoy.

Do: Increase intensity when you can

Man doing jog or intense fitness walk in city
Lordn / Shutterstock

The more brisk and intense your walks, the more calories you’ll burn and the fitter you’ll get. What intense means to you will vary depending on your situation. If you’re young and healthy, and intense walk could be a tough hike uphill. If you’re older or dealing with an injury, a brisk walk might be intense enough for your daily exercise. Picking up the pace when you can is a great way to get a bit more out of your walk and get more steps towards your goal.

As your walks get longer, you’ll need to pay more attention to keeping up your stamani and not tiring yourself out. Increase your pace gradually over time, and plan ahead on your fitness walks so that you know how intense you can get and still finish the route. You don’t always need to speed walk – taking a leisurely walk and seeing the sights is great for you as well. If you can find segments of your walk to get more intense, you’ll see better results overall, however. Consider alternating faster fitness walking with more leisurely walking to get the best of both worlds.

Don’t: Burn yourself out too quickly

When you just start out and feel full of energy, it’s tempting to jump out to a very fast pace to get your steps and burn a ton of calories. That fast pace can be hard to sustain, and you may find yourself tired out before you’re able to get into a rhythm for your longer walks. Make sure to warm up and cool down, and increase your pace gradually until you’re at a brisk walking pace.

It’s often a good idea to save the intense portions of your walk for the middle to the end of your walking route. That way, you can see how much energy you have left and decide how fast you can go on any given day. If you get tired, you’ll be close to home and you can wrap up your walk with a slow cool-down. This is another reason why it’s better to fitness walk on routes you know well already. You don’t want to run into an unexpected hill or need to take a detour because your phone map software is indicating an impassable route just as you’re running out of energy.

Do: Commit to at least starting your planned walks

Taking the first step outside
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Try to commit to at least starting your planned walks, even if you’re feeling a bit off or a little tired. The more you walk, the more you’ll recognize the difference between legitimately needing a rest day and common excuses not to walk. If you commit to getting dressed and ready, then taking a few steps outside your door you’ll usually have the motivation to finish your walk.

As you start to take longer walks, you’ll have more opportunities to make excuses and the effort it will take may seem more daunting. You can usually walk a lot more than you’d expect, and the momentum you get from starting to walk will overcome most of your walking excuses.

Don’t: Feel pressured to finish if you really don’t have it

Knowing when you really do need to cut your walk short or take a rest day will help you walk more consistently over the long term and avoid injury. There will be days where you start walking and feel sore, very tired, or your body will simply feel off. It’s important to listen to your body and rest, as long as this doesn’t happen on a regular basis. If you find yourself regularly stopping walks short or bailing on your scheduled walks, you’re probably exercising too hard or not resting enough.

You should also be mindful of your body as you walk, and “scan” your body from time to time to see how you’re feeling. You might be so engrossed in your walk that you don’t notice pain or soreness, or you might be more tired than you realize. If your posture starts to fade or you find yourself struggling, it’s much better to cut your walk short and head home. You might miss your goal for the day, but you’ll miss many more steps if you get injured or have to take a few days (or more!) away from walking.

Do: Challenge yourself to get steps when you feel great

Happy woman walking in nature
Subbotina Anna / Shutterstock

When you get on a roll walking for fitness, you’ll have some days where you’re feeling amazing and you’re in the zone for walking. Your feet feel light and you don’t even notice as the minutes and steps go by. If you have the time and you’re dialed into walking, it’s the perfect time to challenge yourself and walk a bit farther or a bit faster. Of course, you don’t want to take things too far and hurt yourself or get so sore you can’t walk the next day. If you usually get 10,000 steps, try for 12,000. Or if you usually take a half hour to walk your route, see if you can do it in 25 minutes.

Setting step goals that are challenging but achievable can motivate you to build up your endurance. Hitting those ambitious goals might take a bit of work. You might have a special walking route for days you want to challenge yourself, or occasionally time your walks and see if you can set a personal record. As long as you keep things appropriate for your fitness and health situation, a little challenge is a great thing.

Don’t: Push yourself through soreness, pain or bad posture

Challenging yourself is great, but pain and soreness is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Trying to walk through pain just to hit a one-day step record is a recipe for an injury and a long-term setback. Walking is an exercise you can do for your entire life, and the health benefits come from consistent walking over the long haul. An injury, even if it’s not serious, will set you back and cost you way more steps than you can get in one day of intense walking.

If you notice your posture slipping, or if you have to drag yourself to finish your walk, you’re also putting yourself at risk for injury. Make sure to maintain good posture for your entire walk. Try to finish your walk feeling fresh, even if you’re a bit winded. If you feel like you’re going to collapse at the end of your walk, your intensity level is probably too high and that last portion of your walk is likely putting you at higher risk of either a sudden injury or a repetitive strain injury from poor walking form.

Final thoughts

Even as you get more intense with your walks, make sure that your walking routine is set up for success in the long run. Stay motivated and active while getting more intense while you can, but also stay safe and walk within your limits. Build your stamina gradually over time, and you’ll hit your step goal and get the great benefits that walking provides.

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