Fitness Tips

This Is How a Walking Coach Structures a 3-Mile Walk for Optimal Health Benefits

Mercey Livingston

Photo: Getty/Westend 61
The refrain of pandemic fitness has been: "Do less and get more out of it." In our Trends package last year, we called that restorative fitness modalities would begin to climb, and throughout 2021, they've done just that. One key way? Walking. According to an MIT study, over the pandemic year, more people went on leisurely strolls and power walks than they had before.

A simple 3-mile walk is a surprisingly effective and versatile way to check most (if not all) of your fitness boxes, depending on how creative you get with that walk. Just ask Steve Stonehouse, NASM, certified run coach and director of education for STRIDE. Stonehouse coaches runners and walkers on the daily, and below, he's sharing exactly how he'd structure a 3-mile walk for best results.

How to design a challenging and effective 3-mile walk

A 3-mile walk is an ideal workout because it gives you just enough time to throw in some variety (intervals, anyone?) while still keeping your workout attainable and doable, according to Stonehouse.

You can make your workout simple and set the first mile as your warm-up mile, the second mile as your "working" mile, where you challenge yourself by taking a hill or maybe a different path, and the final mile can be your cool-down stretch. It's that simple, but also that effective.

4 ideas for making a 3-mile walk more challenging

There's nothing wrong with doing an easy three miles, or setting up a simple workout like the one that's outlined above, but when you're ready to take the intensity up a bit, Stonehouse suggests trying one or more of the below.

1. Take a route with hills: If you're exercising in a neighborhood and you can find an area with more hills or something other than a flat road, take your walk there to mix it up.

2. Challenge yourself with intervals: Walk slowly for one minute, quickly for one minute, and repeat during your second "working" mile.

3. Try 5-minute blocks: Push for one minute, and then do four minutes at an easy pace. Repeat the 5-minute blocks until you hit 3 miles or your timed goal.

4. Change up the scenery: Take your three miles out to a trail or hike for a challenge and an extra dose of calm.

Key walking form tips to follow

Ask any fitness trainer what one of the most important elements of any workout (including walking) is, and they'll most likely say form. You need good form to reap all of the body-loving benefits of exercise and to make sure you're using the correct muscles. When your form gets wonky, injuries can creep up.

Two things that Stonehouse calls out for walkers: First, be mindful of the upper body (shoulders and arms). Next, pay attention to your heel strike.

1. Upper body form tips

"A lot of people sit at a desk throughout the day, so their shoulders and their upper body end up getting really tight. Sometimes their posture can kind of stay like that. They get out for a walk, their shoulders get tight, their arms don't swing as much," says Stonehouse. To counter that, he suggests keeping your arms a bit loose and letting them swing since that will help your leg motion. But also be mindful of crossing them too much or overstriding. "Make sure that the arms are swinging, but I never want the arms crossing the midline of the body," says Stonehouse.

2. Heel strike

You've probably heard the term heel strike applied to runners more than walkers, but according to Stonehouse, it's important for both groups to pay attention to. "A lot of times with runners. we're really trying to decrease as much of the heel strike as possible. Ideally for a runner, you want to get a mid-foot strike," says Stonehouse. For walkers, you want a "good heel strike on the outside of your heel. You're going to naturally roll over to your midfoot and then off on your big toe. So ideally you want to keep that heel strike, mid-foot, big toe," says Stonehouse.

And obviously to help you do that, here are some podiatrist-approved shoes we love.

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