In Depth – Walking


This post will contain topics following this order:

  1. What it is
  2. Benefits
  3. Tips for Improvement
  4. Comparing to Other Cardiovascular Tasks
  5. Summary / Conclusion

1 – What it is

Walking (also known as ambulation) is one of the main gaits of locomotion among legged animals, and is typically slower than running and other gaits. Walking is defined by an ‘inverted pendulum’ gait in which the body vaults over the stiff limb or limbs with each step. This applies regardless of the number of limbs – even arthropods, with six, eight or more limbs, walk.


Human walking is accomplished with a strategy called the double pendulum. During forward motion, the leg that leaves the ground swings forward from the hip. This sweep is the first pendulum. Then the leg strikes the ground with the heel and rolls through to the toe in a motion described as an inverted pendulum. The motion of the two legs is coordinated so that one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground. The process of walking recovers ~60% of the energy used due to pendulum dynamics and ground reaction force.

Walking differs from a running gait in a number of ways. The most obvious is that during walking one leg always stays on the ground while the other is swinging. In running there is typically a ballistic phase where the runner is airborne with both feet in the air (for bipedals).

Another difference concerns the movement of the centre of mass of the body. In walking the body “vaults” over the leg on the ground, raising the centre of mass to its highest point as the leg passes the vertical, and dropping it to the lowest as the legs are spread apart. Essentially kinetic energy of forward motion is constantly being traded for a rise in potential energy. This is reversed in running where the centre of mass is at its lowest as the leg is vertical. This is because the impact of landing from the ballistic phase is absorbed by bending the leg and consequently storing energy in muscles and tendons. In running there is a conversion between kinetic, potential, and elastic energy.

There is an absolute limit on an individual’s speed of walking (without special techniques such as those employed in speed walking) due to the upwards acceleration of the centre of mass during a stride – if it’s greater than the acceleration due to gravity the person will become airborne as they vault over the leg on the ground. Typically however, animals switch to a run at a lower speed than this due to energy efficiencies.

Many people enjoy walking as a recreation in the mainly urban modern world, and it is one of the best forms of exercise. For some, walking is a way to enjoy nature and the outdoors; and for others the physical, sporting and endurance aspect is more important.

There are a variety of different kinds of walking, including bushwalking, racewalking, beach walking, hillwalking, volksmarching, Nordic walking, trekking and hiking. Some people prefer to walk indoors on a treadmill, or in a gym, and fitness walkers and others may use a pedometer to count their steps.

2 – Benefits

  1. If you have diabetes, walking can help lower your blood sugar and your weight
  2. Walking can help protect against heart disease
  3. It can lower your blood pressure and your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while ramping up your “good” (HDL) cholesterol
  4. Walking is also a great way to get fit and stay healthy if you are pregnant
  5. Free
  6. Can do it anywhere
  7. No equipment needed but shoes and clothing (optional in some places)
  8. Walking is an ideal type of exercise when you’re just getting started
  9. You can go as fast or as slow as you need
  10. Low impact = less joint deterioration
  11. Walking may be the simplest way to work out
  12. Your bones will get stronger
  13. Eases stress
  14. Helps you sleep better
  15. You have a variety to choose from = not boring

3 – Tips for Improvement

Finish your walking workout faster at a set distance. If you walk the same route every time, you will be done sooner. If you walk for a set period of time, you’ll be going farther and therefore burning more calories.

Get your heart rate up to the level for moderate-intensity exercise, so you will get the most health benefits and a better fitness boost from your walking workout.

Increase the calories you burn during your walk by being able to walk a longer distance in the same time, or by increasing speed to the point you are burning more calories due to using more muscles (12 minute miles and under).

Before you get faster, take some baseline measurements to see how fast you are now and to see what your heart rate is when you are walking at top speed. Time yourself walking a measured mile or kilometer as a good standard speed measurement. You can use a local track, or you can measure out a mile or kilometer to walk using tools such as a bike odometer, car odometer, or GPS. First warm up with a walk of five to ten minutes so you are limber and ready to walk at your top speed.

How you hold your body is very important to walking comfortably and easily. With good posture you will be able to breathe easier and you will avoid back pain. Remeber these rules:

  • Stand up straight
  • Think of being tall and straight, do not arch your back
  • Do not lean back or sit back on your your hips, this strains the back
  • Some coaches recommend leaning forward 5 degrees, but this usually results in too much lean, which doesn’t improve speed
  • Keep your eyes forward, not looking down but rather looking 20 feet ahead.
  • Chin up (parallel to the ground). This reduces strain on neck and back.
  • Relax your jaw and avoid tension in your neck
  • Shrug once and let your shoulders fall and relax, with your shoulders slightly back. Do not hike up your shoulders or tense them.
  • Suck in your stomach – keep your abdominal muscles firm but not overtightened
  • Tuck in your behind – rotate your hip forward slightly. This will keep you from arching your back.
  • Your head should remain level as you walk, all motion takes place from the shoulders down
  • Your hips will rotate front to back as you walk, avoid side-to-side swaying which is wasted motion


The Right Arm Swinging Technique

The first step is to forget all of the images you have seen of a power walker pumping their arms in big swoops, punching the air in front of their face. A lot of that motion is going to waste. Here is how to use powerful arm motion that will actually help you walk faster.

  • Straight arms won’t speed you up. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees.
  • You don’t want to clench your hands or hold any objects in them. Your hands should be relaxed with your fingers in a partially closed curl.
  • Hold your elbows close to your body. You don’t want to flail your arms around like chicken wings, that is wasted energy.
  • Now for the tricky part – when does your arm come forward? If you just close your eyes, your body will start doing it right. The arm on the same side of the body as your forward foot goes backward in opposition to the foot motion, to balance the body. Now exaggerate this natural movement a little, so your back hand is reaching towards your back pocket (or where one would be).
  • Now your forward foot goes back and the opposite arm comes forward. You want to ensure this motion is straight forward, not coming forward and crossing your body diagonally. Instead, it is like the motion of a choo choo train or extending a hand in a handshake.
  • You don’t want the forward hand crossing the center point of your body. It can diagonal slightly, but any substantial diagonal motion is wasted effort.
  • Keep your forward hand low, it shouldn’t come up above the level of your breastbone or you are wasting effort.

 4 – Comparison to other Cardiovascular Tasks

The easiest comparison is to running and calisthenics. In comparison to running it will vary. Seeing as there are multiple forms of both running and walking it would be hard to include them all. For ease we will use the relative extrema of walking and running.
Running: 5 – 23 MPH.
Walking: <10 MPH.

For instance use Usain Bolt for the fastest sprint possible (9.58 for a 100m). Doing a 100m in 9.58 seconds means he went ~23.4 MPH (averaged). I personally can walk almost at 9 MPH so being as i dont walk everyday there must be someone who can walk at least 9 or more; hence why i put <10 MPH.

You can use the formulas below to determine your calorie-burn while running and walking. The “Net Calorie Burn” measures calories burned, minus basal metabolism. Scientists consider this the best way to evaluate the actual calorie-burn of any exercise. The walking formulas apply to speeds of 3 to 4 mph. At 5 mph and faster, walking burns more calories than running.
Your Total Calorie Burn/Mile
Your Net Calorie Burn/Mile
.75 x your weight (in lbs.)
.63 x your weight
.53 x your weight
.30 x your weight
Adapted from “Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running,” Medicine & Science in Sport &Exercise, Cameron et al, Dec. 2004.

How to explain this? It’s not easy, except to say that walking at very fast speeds forces your body to move in ways it wasn’t designed to move. This creates a great deal of internal “friction” and inefficiency, which boosts heart rate, oxygen consumption, and calorie burn. So, as Jon Stewart might say, “Walking fast…good. Walking slow…uh, not so much.”


  1. Non-brisk walking in comparison to normal running burns fewer calories.
  2. Brisk walking and faster in comaprison to normal running burns more calories.
    1. therefore brisk walking must be >.63 x your weight / mile

These are general facts considered close truths by the scientific field:

  • 10 x 100m sprints = ~400 calories
    • 1000m sprinted = ~400 calories
    • 1 m sprinted = ~0.4 calories
    • Formula for Sprinting (using approximation): ~644 calories / mile
  • jump roping = 4 x more effective than running (not sprinting; so 5-10 MPH)
    • 36 – 56 calories / min
  • running @ 5-10 MPH = ~ 9 – 14 calories / min
    • ~ 84 – 108 calories / mile
  • 30 min of swimming = ~300 calories
    • ~10 calories / min
  • calisthenics = ~3 – 9 calories / min


reference for running, rope jumping, and calisthenics:


Do keep in mind that these aren’t the exact numbers just approximations put forth by leading scientific journals.

5 – Summary / Conclusion

  • Sprinting Formula (Approximation): ~644 calories / mile
  • Jump Roping Formula: ~36 – 56 calories / min
  • Running Formula (EXACT (from 5 to 10 MPH)): .63 x your weight / mile
  • Running Formula (Approximation (from 5 to 10 MPH)): ~84 – 108 calories / mile
  • Calisthenics Formula: ~3 – 9 calories / min
  • Swimming Formula: ~10 calories / min
  • Walking Formula (EXACT (from 3 to 4 MPH)): 0.3 x your weight / mile

Sprinting > Jumping Rope > Brisk-Walking > Running > Swimming > Walking

After all is said and done i prefer speed workouts and brisk walking and now you hopefully can see why.


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