Mary Lynn Sinisi chose to power walk during the treadmill portion of her Orangetheory Fitness classes out of necessity. Seven years of working at Trader Joe’s grocery store, being on her feet for hours at a time, had taken its toll on her joints. A former runner, she just hurt.
But then something unexpected happened: She loved power walking. Since first trying it two years ago, she’s noticed “amazing progress.”
“I thought I was downgrading when I began power walking,” she says, “but I feel so much better. My heart rate is dropping and my oxygen saturation is better. My stamina has increased. I’m even able to lift heavier. Every single step you take is a full body effort. Your entire body stays engaged when you’re power walking on an incline on the treadmill.”
Power walking has helped her get back into running, too. She recently ran four miles with a friend, and hadn’t felt that comfortable doing so in years.
Valerie Hart, a loyal power walker at the Orangetheory studio in Quincy, MA, loves power walking for a variety of reasons.
“It’s easier on my hips than running,” she says. “My legs feel stronger and look more sculpted because of the inclines. And I don’t hate that it’s a good booty workout, too.”
Although power walking can get a bad rap, objections about it tend to be unfounded, says Brittany Masteller, PhD, an Orangetheory Fitness research scientist.
“There’s often an attitude that it’s not effective, and that everyone should try to run,” Dr. Masteller says. “But when it comes to an Orangetheory workout, it’s really just about personal preference. The Orangetheory workouts are designed to reach certain heart rate zones. On the tread, this can be done with power walking or with running. If you’re performing the workout the coach is stating, power walkers and runners can elicit similar heart rate zones”
The main difference between power walking and running, she says, is that in running, there’s a time during each step when both your feet are off the ground. With power walking, one foot is always touching the ground.
“When it comes to the intensity and impact, with running, your body is in the air, so when you come back down, that creates a higher impact,” Dr. Masteller says. “This can be uncomfortable or painful for some people for various reasons. Whatever movement members choose to do on the treadmill – power walking, jogging, running, or a combination – what’s important to remember is this: When Ellen Latham created Orangetheory, she wanted it to be effective for everyone who enters the studio.
“The templates are created and designed to elicit that positive response for all kinds of participants,” Dr. Masteller says.
Again, it’s your choice. And with National Walking Day approaching on April 5, what better time to give it a try. And if you’re concerned your heart rate won’t make it into the orange zone, take it from Valerie: It will.
“Once you have figured out your proper inclines and paces for base, push, and all-out, you’ll have no problem hitting the orange zone,” she says. “You’ll probably even be out of breath if you’re really pushing yourself.”
Incline, as she and Mary Lynn attest, is the key to upping intensity. Dr. Masteller agrees.
“At Orangetheory, the way we increase intensity in running during a class is by speed,” she says. “For power walkers, walking at an incline increases the intensity.”
Wonder if that’s true? Try it when the coach gives interval parameters like this: “We’re coming up on a one-minute push! Joggers and runners, increase speed by 1-2 miles per hour! Power walkers: Incline goes to 7 percent or greater!” During that time, you’ll only be able to say a few words without needing to take a breath.
Whether you’re a power walker now or would like to give it a chance, here are some tips to help you do your absolute best:
Get over the ego. Mary Lynn says “Power walking can look goofy and it can feel goofy to walk fast. But you have to get that out of your head and know that nobody except you and your coach care what you’re doing.”
Bend your elbows and pump your arms. Keep your forearms parallel to the floor; refrain from letting them cross over your body. “Using your arms helps you engage your core and upper body. This can help you reach and maintain a higher intensity and initiate a higher heart rate” Dr. Masteller says.
Watch your steps. “Everyone’s body has a natural stride,” Dr. Masteller says. “Be careful not to take steps that are too long or too short. First and foremost, you need to stay safe.”
Focus on posture. That means keeping your head up and looking forward, not down. “Don’t look at your feet,” she says, “which can be tempting when you’re going so fast.”
Ask your coach for tips. They’re well versed in the benefits of and tricks to power walking.
If you’re used to running, pepper in walking. Once or twice a week, give it a try, Mary Lynn suggests. “When I started out, the class template suggested going 3.5 to 4.5 mph. I didn’t feel like I was engaging the muscles I needed, so I slowed down, upped the incline, and paid more attention to my heart rate.
Pay attention to how you feel. “Learn to compete with yourself and really push the incline,” Mary Lynn says.
Incorporate walking into your life. “When you’re not at Orangetheory,” Dr. Masteller says, “use it as a bout of exercise that will help you meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly.”