Prior to the rise of HIIT, kickboxing, or yoga, there existed the original comprehensive workout: Walking. The lower body is the most blatant driver of this activity, but in reality, almost all muscle groups are engaged.
Let’s analyze it from the ground upwards.
Which muscles are utilized while walking?
Initially, “you are definitely utilizing your leg muscles—your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes,” walking coach and ACE-certified trainer Michele Stanten previously stated to Well+Good. Your hip flexors also aid in swinging your leg forward, and another less renowned muscle, the anterior tibialis (the muscle that travels along the shin bone), is also involved.
“This muscle is responsible for drawing your toes up,” Stanten states. “So when you swing your leg forward and land on your heel, your toes are up, and that shin muscle is working. The quicker you walk, the more steps you take, and the harder it’s working,”
Thus, from the waist down, the fronts, backs, and sides of your legs are all hard at work to keep you moving forward. However, the waist is not where the exertion ends. Your core, inclusive of the abdominal muscles, obliques, and spinal stabilizers, are maintaining your posture and preventing you from swaying side to side.
“What those are doing is truly supporting your body,” Stanten explains. “As you increase your pace with walking, you start to experience some hip swivel. Thus, there is a degree of rotation with walking. Consequently, the abdominal muscles are also functioning in that role.”
The muscles in the lower and middle back that are part of the core also provide support. Particularly, the upper back engages when you utilize your arm muscles, aiding in the momentum of walking.
“If you’re bending your arms, swinging your arms, and driving those elbows back, you really start to engage those muscles,” Stanten mentions. “That powerful arm swing can aid in powering your walk.”
How to develop a sturdy, supported gait
So, we know muscle strength is crucial for propelling your walks. Nevertheless, walking alone does not necessarily contribute to additional muscle strength, although it does enhance muscular endurance.
Are there any actions you can take, aside from walking, to fortify your gait? Enhancing the strength of your body through bodyweight or weighted exercises can be beneficial. You might also contemplate incorporating some strength training into your walks by bringing along some hand, wrist, or ankle weights.
“Walking already targets your core and whole lower body, but integrating weights can elevate the intensity and engage your upper body, as well as increase your heart rate,” Onyx trainer Juliet Root shared with Well+Good.
However, if you want to set yourself up for overall walking success, strength is not the sole aspect to contemplate. It is also crucial to mobilize your joints—assisting them in transitioning throughout their complete range of motion. Especially, having strong, mobilized hips “means you’ll be able to walk better on your feet, [and] walk for longer as well,” states Pilates instructor and founder of Go Chlo Pilates, Chloe De Winter.
It is also important to stretch all of the muscles that are utilized during walking so that they do not become taut and contracted. This is particularly relevant for the calves, which bear a significant portion of the walking effort, despite being a somewhat overlooked muscle.
“Calf muscles get really tight and if they’re too weak, then it can lead to injuries in your feet like plantar fasciitis or shin splints.” —Chloe De Winter
Chloe De Winter is cognizant of the complete body mechanics requisite for walking, which is why she has developed a 15-minute Pilates routine for the lower body and core for Well+Good’s “Trainer of the Month Club” that is explicitly intended to facilitate your walking practice.
“When you’re out on your feet, you use lots of the muscles in your lower body and also need lots of strength for your core and for your back,” De Winter expresses. “That’s what we’re going to do today.”
Pilates is an exceptional complement to walking because it can aid in cultivating slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are imperative muscles required in walking.
View the video of De Winter’s Pilates for lower body and core regimen above, or follow along with a step-by-step guide here.
Pilates for lower body and core regimen to bolster a walking practice
Structure: Six lower body strength maneuvers, performed once on each side, followed by three core exercises.
Equipment: No equipment is necessary.
Who is this for?: Anyone who desires to reinforce a walking practice by strengthening, stretching, and mobilizing their lower body, core, and back.
Donkey kicks (1 minute)
- Assume the hands and knees position.
- Distribute your weight equally through your shoulders and your left leg.
- Elevate your right leg behind you with the knee bent, bringing the thigh parallel to the floor.
- Lower down and repeat.
Fire hydrants (1 minute)
- Starting from the hands and knees position, raise the right leg to the side, keeping the knee bent.
- Lower down and repeat.
Leg circles (30 seconds)
- From the hands and knees position, execute the first part of a fire hydrant, raising your right leg to the side.
- Instead of lowering it back down from the side, rotate the thigh in a circular motion, causing your foot to move up behind you, and then lower the knee back down.
Lunge pulses (1 minute)
- Rise into a pyramid pose, with your right foot positioned in front, and your left foot situated behind with the heel raised off the ground, feet spaced apart.
- Lean forward at the hips, shifting your chest and shoulders slightly forward.
- Bend both knees as you pulse up and down.
Leg tap backs (50 seconds)
- Bring your left foot up to align with your right foot, maintaining a gentle bend in both knees.
- Shift all the weight onto your right foot and place your hands on your hips.
- Straighten the left leg behind you and tap the left foot on the ground.
- Bring it back in, keeping the weight on the right foot.
- Incorporate the arms: Bend your elbows next to your sides, with your palms facing inward. As your left leg moves rearward, your left arm moves forward and your right arm moves backward, pumping in the same manner as if you were briskly walking.
Lifted leg hold (10 seconds)
- From the tapped back position of the leg tap backs, return your hands to your hips.
- Elevate your left leg off the ground and maintain the posture.
Repeat each of the above moves on the other side
Downward dog to plank (30 seconds)
- Assume a downward dog stance: Lean forward from standing. Position your hands on the ground. Step your feet back until you form a triangle with your body, placing your hips at the apex of the triangle.
- Transition into plank position: Shift your weight forward, unhinging your hips and aligning your body into a straight line.
- Move back and forth between the two positions.
Downward dog knee drives (40 seconds)
- Continuously alternate between downward dog and plank, and the next time you revert to a plank, lift one leg off the floor and bend that knee inward toward your chest.
- Alternate between legs and repeat.
Calf stretch (40 seconds)
- Frombend one leg and simultaneously bring one heel toward the floor as you go into a downward-facing dog position.
- Keep this pose for 20 seconds.
- Then, switch to the opposite side.