Whether you’re a regular gym-goer with muscle building constantly in mind, or a fitness tracker aficionado with your eyes fixed on that daily 10,000, you’ve surely thought: Does walking build muscle? After all, it’s our most regular form of exercise, and for some who may have trouble lifting weights or participating in intense aerobic exercise, the only form that can be performed.
“Walking is primarily seen as a form of low-intensity cardiovascular exercise,” says Brett Starkowitz, head coach and head of education at Ten Health & Fitness. (opens in new tab). “It usually doesn’t cause significant changes in muscle mass or tone.” Well that’s it then, right? Well not exactly so don’t stop looking for the best treadmills (opens in new tab) right now.
“Walking falls into the category of resistance exercises, which are known to build slow-twitch muscle fibers; fibers used predominantly for periods of sustained activity. People may notice a slight increase in leg size after walking, as the legs “swell” to absorb nutrients and remove waste products – such as lactic acid (opens in new tab)” says Starkowitz.
That might explain those bulging calves after your usual walk through the local park, but unfortunately the change in volume won’t last more than an hour afterwards. However, keep walking for extended periods regularly and those toned calves can stick around, with a 2018 study from Nagoya University (opens in new tab) finding that muscle quality was improved among 31 participants after 10 weeks of regular 30-minute bouts of walking.
So while you won’t build an Olympic weightlifter’s legs while walking, there are muscles to be built from that. With that, we’ve looked at which muscles are working as you walk, whether you can burn fat by doing it, and we’ve gained tips from Starkowitz to help level up your daily walks and start building muscle faster.
What muscles are worked during walking?
Walking will predominantly work the lower body and will primarily stimulate the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip adductors, as well as the spine and abdominal muscles, which play a significant role in stabilizing the torso as you go.
“Walking is one of the best leg exercises for everyone,” says Starkowitz, who also mentions the need to include small hand weights or Nordic poles if you want to expand walking into a full-body workout.
Can You Burn Fat While Walking?
Yup. “Cardiovascular exercise, along with the right diet, is a great recipe for burning fat,” says Starkowitz. “The key is monitoring your heart rate and working in what’s known as the ‘Fat Burning Zone’. This usually equates to working at 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate, which generally equates to burning 7 to 12 calories per minute. ”
Another important aspect to consider when looking for fat burning results from walking is duration.
“Working at this low to moderate intensity means you need to make sure your walks are long enough to see significant results,” says Starkowitz.
Also remember that if you want to exercise to lose weight, morning is best, with a study in the International Journal of Obesity (opens in new tab)noting that participants who performed a 10-month supervised exercise program were more successful in weight loss when exercising between 7:00 am and 11:59 am.
“Regular walking helps preserve lean muscle mass,” says Starkowitz. “Muscle mass, unlike fat, is metabolically active, which means you burn more calories on a daily basis.”
Need help tightening the extra steps? Install one of the best walking treadmills (opens in new tab) under your desk and you can walk around while you work.
Maximizing muscle building while walking
According to Starkowitz, there are several ways to maximize your muscle-building potential while walking.
“A popular option is to incorporate intervals by alternating between walking at a steady pace and doing a ‘strong walk,’ a light run, or a sprint,” says Starkowitz. “This will have a number of benefits in cardiovascular endurance and strength gains, involving fast-twitch muscle fibers.
“You can also take a break while walking to add in some bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, push-ups or planks. Try to work small strength intervals of 20-30 seconds of bodyweight into your walk to maximize the cross-training effect. Or change the direction of your walk by adding back run and side step intervals to improve balance and stability. ”
In addition to these multifunctional forms of exercise, there is also the potential to add weights to your walk. We mentioned Nordic hand weights and poles, but you could also consider a weighted vest or ankle weights.
“Weighted vests have the added benefit of getting you involved and strengthening your back muscles to ensure you maintain good posture while walking,” says Starkowitz.
Additionally, walking with weights can also increase bone muscle density and reduce fracture risk, according to a 2018 systematic review by BioMed Research International. (opens in new tab).
mixing the terrain
Another great way to increase your muscle building is to get off the flat terrain and up the incline.
“Walking on trails, roads, grass, sloped or uneven surfaces, or unstable surfaces such as sand or gravel will challenge the muscles in your lower legs, ankles and feet more than on asphalt, and they will have to work harder to maintain balance. and stability,” says Starkowitz. “Try to alternate the route of your hike to include some different slopes and surfaces, and if you come across a set of stairs along your hike, climb them.”
And if the thought of getting off the road prevents you from walking outdoors, take your walks indoors with a treadmill. “Alternate between working at different inclines and speeds to vary the intensity and muscle recruitment of your workout,” says Starkowitz. “Finally, if you’re walking on a treadmill, let go of the handrails. You will greatly increase calorie burning and core muscle recruitment.”
Effects of 10 weeks of walking and walking with home resistance training on muscle quality, muscle size and physical functional tests in healthy older adults (opens in new tab).
The effects of exercise session timing on weight loss and energy balance components. (opens in new tab)
The effectiveness of physical exercise on bone density in osteoporotic patients. (opens in new tab)