And if you need further proof that the walking workouts trend is gaining traction, boutique fitness studios like SLT in New York City, digital platforms like Peloton, and luxury gyms like Equinox all now offer treadmill classes dedicated to the activity.
Since walking is so familiar for most people, it'd be easy to assume that there isn't much room for individualization within this niche. But after connecting with trainers from different fitness brands now offering walking workouts, it's clear that no two classes are exactly the same.
What to expect from a group walking class
Every treadmill walking workout will be unique, so it's worth reading the description of the class you plan to drop into. But one thing they all seem to have in common is an emphasis on high-intensity, low-impact training (aka HILIT).
"The focus is to provide low-impact cardio that gets your heart rate elevated and works your muscles," says Pamela Trujillo, CPT, an instructor at SLT. "Taking a HIIT Walk class at SLT Tread will consist of 25 minutes of strength training on a Megaformer and 25 minutes of cardio on a Woodway treadmill. Our walking classes are designed just like our running classes, except with walking." Think: intervals of different speeds, inclines and distances.
At Equinox, you can expect a lot of hill drills. "Precision Walk: Elevate is a climbing workout focused on the use of treadmill inclines to create a low-impact, high-intensity alternative to running," says Taylor Spearnak, a group fitness manager and instructor at Equinox in NYC.
And while Equinox and SLT are offering in-person classes, Peloton's providing an online walking workout option. Peloton instructor Kirsten Ferguson says the platform offers four different types of walking content: fun, music-based walks ("for the member who likes to move to specific music genres with some challenging surprises in the workout"), Power Walk ("for the walker who likes to push their pace while keeping both feet on the ground"), Hikes ("which I think surprises most members at how challenging they can be"), and Walk + Run ("the perfect progression for a walker who wants to dip their toe into running. It's a 1:1 work to rest ratio meaning that whatever interval length you do walking, you will also do the same running.").
How treadmill walking workouts compare to walking outside
The health perks of treadmill walking are the same as any type of walking: It can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strength and muscular endurance, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and increase energy levels.
The added bonus of getting your steps in on a treadmill is that you can add more variability into your workout, which is great for people who get bored easily while doing steady state cardio. "You can control the incline and speed with such creativity," Spearnak says.
Tread workouts also offer a greater level of predictability and safety. Environmental factors like air quality and weather conditions aren't an issue, and the indoor class setting offers a secure place to run or walk. "For many of our members, [the class] finally allowed them to get a run or walk in at night, or during a time they would not normally feel comfortable being outside alone," says Spearnak. "You are never alone—that’s the beauty of the group fitness experience."
How to get the most out of a treadmill walking workout
Because you're not moving as fast as you might if you were running, it's common to think that treadmill walking workouts are easier. But that's a misconception. Your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) should still be high during push efforts.
"Even though it’s low-impact, those inclines combined with speed walking can really get your heart rate elevated and make you sweat," Trujillo says. And don't forget proper walking form: "Stand up straight, relax your shoulders, engage your core, and use your arms to help give you power versus holding onto the handrails," adds Trujillo. "On inclines, lean your body forward from your ankles versus your waist, so you always have a straight line from your head to your heels, which will keep you out of your lower back."
In addition to proper form and energy output, Ferguson says there are two more things to keep in mind—one technical and one mental: "Come with comfortable shoes and an open heart to see where the journey can take you," she says.
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