In this article I am going to give you some new ideas about how you can quickly increase your fitness. I started thinking about this topic while I was working on a training program for a buddy of mine that was preparing for a military selection and assessment course.
I started thinking about how athletes who are competing at a world class level go about preparing their bodies for competition. One thing that struck me was the massive base of fitness athletes build up before they start to peak. If you are familiar with any type of athletic training you have probably seen how most programs include periods of building up the total amount of work an athlete is performing before the intensity of work the athlete is performing is increased.
While most people in sports training are familiar with the ideas of periodization and building up work capacity, the general public, is mostly un-aware of these basic training ideas. These ideas are important as they tell us why someone who is morbidly obese would be better off doing some low intensity cardio then focusing on building up specific muscle groups. There needs to be a foundation of work capacity and fitness established before more specific physical qualities are trained for.
While I was thinking about work capacity as it relates to training for a military selection, I realized that there was only one type of activity I could think of that is used by nearly every type of athlete at nearly every level of competition to build up work capacity and general fitness. From Olympic level marathon runners to competitive bodybuilders, when athletes need to build up work capacity and increase fitness walking in one of the most important, most under-ratted forms of activity.
Without making you read through the evidence, I am going to say that tracking the amount of walking you are doing with a Fitbit or similar device is the #1 thing you need to do to increase your fitness. If you are new to tracking, I recommend you shoot for 10,000 steps per day. There are plenty of studies showing that this level of activity gets you much closer to the ideal level of activity for humans.
If you want to experiment with the fitness building side of walking, start increasing your daily average by about 1000 steps per week. If you are currently at 10,000 per day, try 11,000 the next week then 12,000 the week after that etc…In my own experience going fro 10,000 to 15,00 I noticed a definite increase in my recovery from endurance training and my ability to get and stay lean.
In the following sections of this article I am going to go over the reasons to start tracking your walking and some of the research behind walking for conditioning. If you are not interested in going that far I will give you some of the main benefits up front.
Walking is used by plenty of bodybuilders in their competition preparation programs. If you search online you can find a ton of competition preparation logs where bodybuilders accumulate literally hours of walking per day. The reason for this is that walking is the lowest impact way to accumulate activity, increase cardiovascular fitness and increase your levels of “fat burning” hormones.
In addition to these benefits, regular walking can increase your bodies ability to digest and assimilate food, help you body balance its endocrine system (hormones) and even reduce chronic cortisol elevation (stress hormone). These are all good things is you are trying to lose fat or body weight or get into better shape.
Finally, if you are a hardcore fitness enthusiast or athlete, high volumes of walking are regularly used in long distance running programs as a supplement to training runs to help develop peripheral vascularity, enhance recovery and condition the body for increased levels of activity.
My main point with this article is that walking is drastically underrated as a means of increasing fitness. Most people who see results with walking plateau for a number of reasons I get into in this article. The main one is that you need to track steps per day and calories when you are using walking to get lean.
Combining activity tracking and calorie tracking produces results that will astound you if you have never given it a try.
The Research: How Does Walking Affects Fitness?
Walking and Testosterone
Testosterone is an extremely important hormone for both men and women. While men have a larger amount of testosterone, women are more sensitive to changes in testosterone. for both sexes it is an extremely important hormones for building muscle, losing fat and looking great.
In an important study, researchers found that walking had the ability to increase testosterone in men more then other common lifestyle modification techniques such as a reduced calorie intakes.
In this study, the researchers knew that both reducing calorie intake and increasing activity levels were reliable ways to increase testosterone levels in obese men. The question was which intervention would have the larger ability to impact serum testosterone.
In the study, they divided the men into two groups that would either reduce their calorie intake or increase their activity over the duration of a 12 week period. In each of the two groups there was a control that would not receive the intervention.
In the activity group there was a low activity group that completed approximately 1100 to 3500 steps per day. In the activity group the participants receiving the intervention completed low intensity exercise that increase their step count to the 3500 to 10500 step range.
In the calorie reduction group, the low calorie reduction group received between 200 and 500 calories per day below their maintenance level calorie intake. The high calorie reduction group, the group receiving the intervention, received between 500 and 2700 calories per day below their maintenance level calorie intake.
The researchers compared the results of the two experimental groups and found that the increased activity group had far greater increases in testosterone then the calorie restriction group.
In the graph to the left you can see that the after graph for the high physical activity (HPA) group is much higher then the after graph for the low physical activity (LPA) group.
As you can see in the graph to the right, the high calorie restriction group (HCR) group experienced a greater increase in testosterone then the low calorie restriction (LCR) group. This may come as a surprise to many people who believe that calorie restriction can lower testosterone.
While calorie restriction lowers testosterone in individuals who have low levels of bodyfat, in obese individuals, calorie restriction reliably increases testosterone levels. This is why the larger increases in the HCR group further increase testosterone beyond what is seen in the LCR group.
Walking and Conditioning
In his instructional manual “how to run fast and injury free“, Olympic running coach Gordon Pirie discusses using trainng walks of up to 4 hours to build up his work capacity for running.
Olympic running coach Arthur Lydiard is one of the coaches most strongly associated with building a large aerobic fitness base. In Arthur’s case, his runners would build up their weekly mileage while conducting training runs, jogs or hikes to build up their base of conditioning. Lydiard’s thoughts on base building for runners applies equally well to the recreational fitness enthusiasts.
“As the miles stack up, we increase the capacity of both the heart and the lungs for work, build our circulatory network to the muscles through increased capillarization, increase the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells, and develop other beneficial metabolic and enzymatic pathways for gathering and converting oxygen to energy. Once these structures are established they allow us to respond and recover quickly. Aerobic training, then, is training for all other types of training.” – Arthur Lydiard
Arthur’s programs were beneficial to the overweight and obese as well. In fact he took on the challenge of coaching overweight individuals to prove how potent his base building methodology was. In just 8 short months he coached 20 overweight, previously sedentary individuals to run an under 4 hour marathon largely through the use of high volume, low intensity activity.
The same benefits that are so important to world class runners can be life saving for someone who is obese. If you are just trying to get ripped, building up your fitness base through walking works equally well for that too.
Walking and Fat Loss
The idea that increasing your activity levels can increase your fitness levels and lower body fat is nothing new. The problem is that very few people understand how large of an impact walking can have on your fitness when it is done consistently.
Many people who do understand the importance of walking give up on walking after their results plateau. The problem is that many people do not understand how to progress walking by tracking activity levels or layering other activities on top of their walking.
While it’s important to understand how to progress walking it’s equally important to consider just how potent consistent walking can be. Consider this study in which 20 obese women ages 30-40 were split into two groups, control and walking.
Both groups were instructed on the use of a food diary. The subjects had to record their intake of a number of foods through out the study. This is a practice that is known to assist in weight loss and generally causes spontaneous weight loss on its own.
The control group did not have to do any additional activity while the walking group was instructed to complete a walking workout at 50-60% of maximum aerobic capacity. This workout was to be conducted three times per week for 50-70 minutes at a time. The goal of the workouts was to burn 400 kcal given the average body weight of the participant in the study.
Though both groups lost weight due to the journaling exercise, the group that was walking lost 6 times the amount of subcutaneous abdominal body fat compared to the non walking group. The walking group also lost over 50% more total body fat then the non walking group.
Finally, fasting glucose levels in the blood, one of the main markers for insulin resistance was lowered 5 times as much in the walking group as it was in the control group.
Bodybuilders and physique athletes can expect results that are no less astounding. As long as you are consistent and are tracking your steps per day, walking is one of the most reliable ways to get in crazy shape. This has to do with the fact that walking minimally interferes with your results in the gym.
Unlike other forms of cardiovascular exercise like interval training or sports, walking does not increase the release of stress hormones in your body. While many popular forms of cardiovascular exercise break down muscle tissue, walking actually assists in recovery from your workouts.
Tracking Your Walking is Fitness Magic
Steps per day is one of the most important numbers to track when trying to increase your fitness. Though many people like to male a big deal about post exercise oxygen consumption or the “after burn” effect of an intense workout, the actual amount of movement your body gets per day is still the primary determinant of calories burned per day.
Tracking steps per day and calories eaten per day is the easiest way to manipulating body weight outside of dehydration. As dehydration is not a winning fat loss strategy, tracking steps and calories should be your #1 strategy. When you add in the tracking of specific lifts in the gym, you have the basics in place for manipulating weight and body composition.
When you track all four of these: steps per day, calories per day, body weight and lifts in the gym, you have everything you need to get in better shape. Measuring these four things allows you to circumvent 90% of the problems people have when they try to loose or gain weight. If only calories eaten or steps per day are tracked there are too many major variables that go un-accounted for.
As soon as your are made conscious of these 4 numbers on a daily basis, you will have a very clear picture of why you are loosing or gaining weight. This is probably the single greatest benefit of tracking your activity levels through steps taken per day.
Alright, that’s all for today. I hope by now you can see how important tracking activity is through steps per day for anyone trying to lose body fat or weight.