Walking is finally getting its flowers as a form of exercise—and they’re much deserved. It's a great way to increase your heart rate and work up a sweat, all while getting some much-needed fresh air in the process. There are many sweat-inducing upgrades to incorporate into a walk around the block or a solo stroll on your treadmill. If your interest is piqued, check out the following tips for arm-exercises you can do while walking, because multitasking can make exercise fun and productive.
“By adding an upper-body element, you're setting the intention of the walk as a full-body workout. Intuitively your pace picks up, your core and postural muscles engage, and your health results are improved and heightened,” says Andrea Speir, founder of Speir Pilates. One of the challenges that walking poses is posture. When you’re walking and your arms are swinging to your sides, it’s possible to round your shoulders forward with a slouched posture, she adds, which is not that ideal. The best walking posture, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to have your head looking forward, spine straight (not arched back or forward), arms moving naturally, and your shoulders back.
The following exercises to do while you walk can promote upper body strength as you walk, which supports your lower body conditioning and cardiovascular health. "The shoulders, lats, and traps drawback, helping you to move from a place of proper postural alignment, and it can promote increased strength in your arm muscles over time," says Speir.
"These exercises can be done with no weight at all, but you can also hold a light set of weights or strap on some wrist weights to increase the intensity of the movements,” says Maeve McEwen, a senior trainer for P.volve. If you don't have any dumbbells or light wrist weights, your resistance band can also come in handy. Creative strategies to incorporate strengthening moves are great for anyone that wants a lighter entry point to strength training or finds doing one specific exercise at a time kind of boring.
Ready to get started? Try these trainer-approved arm exercises while walking on your next stroll for an even more effective workout.
The best arm exercises to do while walking
1. Bicep curls
"This movement imitates a bicep curl you might traditionally do in a fitness class or at the gym, so it’s something super intuitive to do while you're moving your lower body and getting the heart rate up," says Speir. "It reminds you to keep the shoulders pulled back and down, and the core engaged, which is so helpful when walking. Even if you're doing this without any added weight, the action will strengthen and tone the biceps, shoulders, lats, and traps.”
Additionally, it's important to remember that a strength training move can be beneficial without feeling like the hardest, heaviest move ever. This is a great example of that.
How to do it:
- Begin with your arms straight in front of the thighs, palms facing away from the body.
- Bend the elbows, bringing your hands up toward the chest.
- Extend your arms, and lower them back down.
Upgrade your bicep curls with this "bicep curl + press out" variation:
2. Straight arm shoulder circles
"This exercise will help increase mobility in the shoulder joint, helping open up your posture for better alignment in your stride," says McEwen. It’s a great second step in a walking arm workout after you got some blood flowing from a warm-up walk and the bicep curls.
How to do it:
- With straight arms, gently and slowly circle your arms in both directions, only to where you can keep your core engaged, chest open, and shoulders down.
- Inhale as you reach up and exhale as you lower your arms, working to initiate the movement from your back.
3. 90-degree arm swings
"This exercise works the entire arm, helping build strength and tone," says Speir. "It's also fantastic to elevate the heart rate and make your walk that much more effective for your entire body. The swinging action of the arm actually helps motivate your entire body to keep a brisk pace, helping to improve cardiovascular health."
How to do it:
- Begin with your arms bent into 90-degree angles, palms facing toward each other.
- Lower one arm down toward the rib cage.
- Begin alternating your arms (one high, one low) at a brisk pace.
- Aim to keep this action as large as you can go without the shoulders rising up toward the ears, and at a pace that is challenging, but that you can maintain.
4. Uppercut to goal post squeezes
"This move strengthens and stretches your shoulders, chest, and back, which will improve your posture," says McEwen. When your posture rounds forward as a result of sitting at a desk or a larger chest, your neck, back, and shoulder muscles can often take on more strain, according to the Mayo Clinic. This move can help stretch out tight chest muscles, and relieve tension in your back, neck, and shoulders—in addition to strengthening those areas as well.
How to do it:
- Start with your arms at a 90-degree angle framing your face while squeezing your biceps and fists.
- As you walk, squeeze between your shoulder blades to open your arms to a goal post position, then return to the starting position, squeezing from your chest.
5. Swimming row
"This action imitates a breast stroke-style swimming motion, allowing you to get a gentle hit of circulation into the upper body while toning and elongating the upper body muscles," says Speir. "It constantly changes the angle of the arm movement, which challenges and tones not just the arms, but the postural muscles and shoulders as well."
How to do it:
- Begin with your hands together above your sternum.
- Reach your arms forward to straight arms.
- Reach your arms wide to the side.
- Bend your elbows and bring your hands together back above your sternum.
This workout is designed for runners, but you can the format for a walking workout, too:
Going for a walk can be a great way to unwind or rev up your engine for a killer day. Doing some of these arm exercises while walking, if you're looking to add some more flavor to your walking workout, can have a big impact on your cardiovascular health and upper body strength over time.
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