While even a daily walk at a casual pace can have numerous health benefits, speeding up your pace can be even better for your cardiovascular fitness and weight loss. What’s more, there are several different walking styles that can help you speed up your pace. Here’s what you need to know about brisk walking, power walking and race walking.
On average, a casual walking pace for most adults is about 3.3 miles per hour for 20 minutes. Brisk walking requires raising this intensity level. Instead of thinking of it in terms of miles per hour (because of the variances that exist among age, weight and overall fitness level), brisk walking should be thought of as any pace that raises the heart rate into a moderate intensity exercise zone. To achieve this, you’ll need to raise your heart rate into Zone 2, which is at least 60% of your maximum heart. This rate is ideal for weight loss and calorie burn.
To progress from a normal walking pace to brisk walking, you’ll need to concentrate on using good walking form. This includes focusing on posture, using your arm swing to generate more power and maintaining a good stride by shortening your steps and speeding up your cadence.
Similar to brisk walking, power walking is done at any speed that is higher than a normal walking pace. In general, most consider an acceptable power walking speed to be in the 4.5–5.5 mph range, or about a 12- to 13-minute pace per mile. But again, this can vary from person to person depending on factors like weight and fitness level. The key difference between power walking and brisk walking is the arm swing.
By exaggerating front-to-back arm swing, power walkers can generate more power to increase speed and burn more calories. While it can make injuries to the neck and shoulder more likely if not done correctly, many power walkers utilize hand or wrist weights to strengthen the upper body and burn additional calories. Here’s the basic arm swing technique employed by power walkers:
- With your hands relaxed and your elbows bent to 90 degrees, swing your arm forward as the opposite leg takes a step. Your elbows should stay close to your body (avoid chicken winging your elbow) and your forward hand should rise to the level of your sternum.
- As your foot passes beneath the body backward, the opposite arm should follow. This allows your arm to swing behind you. In power walking, this motion is exaggerated slightly, and your hand should complete a motion similar to grabbing an item from your back pocket.
- Be mindful of letting the arm cross diagonally in front of the body. Keep your arms in a plane that allows a smooth front-to-back motion without any wasted effort.
Race walking is a competitive sport with events ranging from 3,000 meters up to 100K. It’s also an Olympic sport and focuses solely on speed. The Olympic distances are either 20K or 50K, with top competitors being able to hold an average pace of six minutes per mile or under.
The key differences between race walking technique and other forms of walking involves the strict adherence to few rules that are assessed by judges along the course. These include:
- One foot must remain in contact with the ground at all times to avoid disqualification
- The leading leg must remain straight from the point of contact until the body passes directly over it
Because of these requirements, you’ll notice race walkers have a rolling hip movement that is distinct to this style. The arms are also normally kept low, rising only to the level of the belly button or just above. Steps are also shorter and quicker in order to achieve the super fast speed needed to compete at the top level of the sport.
Any time you attempt to increase your walking speed or try a different technique like brisk walking, power walking or race walking, it’s important to start slow and ease into the activity to avoid injury. You can approach this in a few different ways. One method is to ease into your faster walking (or power walking) speed by giving it a try during your current workouts. If your normal walk is 30 minutes, continue walking at the pace you’re comfortable with for the first 10 minutes. After you’ve warmed up, walk at your faster pace for two five minute blocks, resting for a few minutes in between to recover. Finish your walk at your normal pace.
Another way to do it is to set aside one or two of your weekly walks to focus on upping your speed. These interval-type sessions can consist of one to two minutes on (at your faster pace) followed by one to two minutes off (a slower, recovery pace). As time progresses and you build fitness while maintaining proper technique, you can include more or longer fast-paced sessions into your routine.