Cross-Training in Fitness Walking

Cross-training is just a fancy term for mixing up and balancing your fitness activities. Think of it as fitness grazing. It should be fun and keep your body  healthy and your mind alert. More and more people are discovering cross-training and consider it a part of their routine and not anything special. According to a 1992 national poll conducted for Outside magazine, the  number of Americans who participated in more than one  activity was  expected to jump  in 10 years by 73 percent, outpacing even  the  impressively increasing numbers of walkers. Taking a look around, I’ll bet  that growth has  been reached.

Even as a walking aficionado, you should sample other activities for several reasons. First, you will strengthen and tone muscles that walking doesn’t target. Walking requires the  concentrated use  of the  muscles in the  back  of the  leg, which can cause strength and flexibility imbalances. Cross-training can resolve possible imbalances.

Cross-Training in Fitness WalkingMultiple activities also can generate added enthusiasm for  exercise in general and walking specifically. Trying a smattering of activities will keep your mind and your body interested in exercise and will promote lifelong participation. Interest and ability in  other activities can give  you  some- thing to fall back on in case of an injury, travel, or other life and schedule changes. If you  need, or are forced, to take a few  days or more off from walking, you’ll know how to substitute other activities so you can maintain your health, fitness, and vitality. Once you  look around, you’ll realize there is an array of activities you  can add to your program, either now  and then, seasonally, or just as the whim strikes. The  following are a few activities that might be more interesting to a walker and the reasons to choose one or another. Remember, the choices don’t stop here, so let this sample tickle your imagination.

To help  you better sort out  what  you might  want  to choose, the  activities are divided into two sections. The first includes a sampler of aerobic activities that are  walking  oriented in some way, but  are  still considered cross-training because they use  different muscles, and  the impact is varied. The  second includes alternate nonwalking aerobic activities.

Variations of Walking

Walking itself can be transformed into a cross-training routine by adding equipment, diversifying your  route, or changing your  walking style.  That’s because the variation, just like cross-training techniques mentioned earlier, uses different muscles to create a nearly different workout, allowing some muscles to rest while stressing other less  frequently used muscles. You can also  use  walking variations in special circumstances, for example, if you travel to a snowy resort for a vacation or to a mountain town  on holiday or business travel. Here are a few varieties that may pique your  interest.

Nordic Walking

Much like cross-country skiing but  without skis or snow,  Nordic walking uses lighter poles with  different hand grips  and  emulates a cross-country-skiing style  of push-off with  the  poles. A participant uses rubber tips  on pavement and metal tips  on dirt.  Only introduced in the  United  States in 2003, the  activity stems from  Scandinavia (hence, the  name) and  is similar to pole  walking that has been done for years in the United  States with a slightly different style. Nordic walking can, depending on the user and his or her skill and technique, use  about 20 percent more calories than regular walking.  Plus,  poling  along demands more from back,  chest, and  arm  muscles, so it turns into  an upper- body workout too. You can also hone your cross-country ski technique. This is one fitness activity that had  its birthplace in Europe, where it has  become an international phenomenon in just  a couple of years with  several million  now participating in Nordic walking.

Retro Walking

This odd-sounding activity is no more than walking  backward. Retro  walking demands more energy than forward walking, reduces impact to nearly zero, and changes the  pattern of muscle use to increase the  demand on the  quadriceps in the front of the thigh. Try short stretches (with one eye over your shoulder) on flat trails or uncrowded tracks. But attempt only short distances at a time because you don’t  want  to back  into  anything. You’ll find your  stride will be shorter. Other than that, the  only things to watch out for are obstacles.


Maybe  you  like the  feeling  of bobbing along  at  a jog, but  you  don’t  like the impact. Try interspersing  your walks  with short runs of 1 to 2 minutes or whatever’s comfortable. A more advanced walker  can turn the runs into short sprints; an  intermediate walker  can  make  the  run slow  and  easy  and  use  it as a rest from fast walking.  Beginners, however, should stick  with walking.  In addition, if you walk a lot of hills, you’ll find that walking steep downhills can be difficult  and even  jarring. Sometimes, an easy  jog down  an incline  is easier on your  body. So try mixing  up  the  run and  walk portions based on terrain fluctuations.


This is really nothing more than winter walking.  And what  a beautiful thing  it is! No special technique is needed, although you might  need time to get used to the  snowshoes. Snowshoeing can use  more calories and  muscles and  gets you outdoors or into the woods, perhaps to explore areas that are impassable in regular shoes. Even if you don’t  live in a snowy area, you may travel some- place that is or live near mountain areas where snowshoeing is an alternative to a fitness walk. The technology in snowshoes has advanced, so the gear you may have in mind—big woven baskets—is archaic at best. Today’s snowshoes are smaller, lighter, designed to make gripping on uphills and downhills easier and safer, and are even gender specific. If you don’t want to buy a pair, you can rent them at outdoor and  ski shops for day or weekend outings.

Outdoor Circuit Training

So you don’t  have  time  to get to a health club?  Transform the  outdoors into your own gym by looking at variations in the environment as places to challenge your  muscles. Do step-ups on curbs or low benches. Walls or fences are great for push-ups. Try triceps dips on planters or benches (put yourself in a face-up “crab walk” position with the palms of your hands on the planter or bench, then bend and  straighten your  elbows). Jump  up and  touch signs  or low branches as you move  along.  Hop over  low obstacles, even  repetitively. In between all those, keep  on walking.  It’s like your  very own outdoor gym circuit.

 You can  even  carry rubber tubes or bands to add  resistance exercises to your personalized routine. Walking with hand weights  isn’t worth the potential for injury,  however. The same goes for ankle weights, which also  throw off your  body  mechanics and  can strain your  joints.

Aerobic Activities

Walking may  be your  first  choice for cardiovascular fitness, and  that’s great because it’s adaptable. But other activities can round out your exercise menu. As usual, aim for a minimum of 20 minutes of any activity. Don’t limit yourself to the activities I’ve highlighted here, although these offer certain advantages as a supplement to walking,  which I note. Otherwise, the  sky’s the  limit!

Outdoor Bicycling

A bicycle can offer freedom to see areas your feet can’t take you to. The movement can also be a relief from walking’s repetitive heel-toe routine. A great leg strengthener, the cycling action creates no impact on the joints and uses more of your  quadriceps than walking does. And you can still get outside to watch the world go by. Thirty minutes of cycling  at a steady 15 miles per hour (mph) uses nearly the  same amount of energy as walking for 30 minutes at 4.5 mph.

Group Exercise

Since its dance-oriented beginnings, aerobics has  evolved into a wide variety of group exercise classes. Something is available to match every taste, not  to mention every coordination level.  These include low-impact, step training, circuit and  interval classes, dance, and  weight  training (sometimes using  a variety of names such as body  sculpting or toning). Classes held indoors are a handy alternative to walks in inclement weather, and one session can work out your whole  body. Trendy music adds a fun element, too. Don’t overlook water aerobics or aqua step classes as possibilities. There are  even  indoor cycling classes. Of course, you can also pop in a tape or DVD and turn your living room into a private studio for a quick  workout at your  convenience.

Most hour sessions will include 30 to 35 minutes of aerobics plus 10 minutes of warm-up and  stretching and  5 to 10 minutes of cool-down and  stretching. As with cycling, 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics, not including the warm-up and cool-down, uses about the same number of calories as walking 30 minutes at 4.5 mph.

Indoor Equipment

The  incredible variety in indoor exercise equipment means you  should be able  to find an enjoyable form of cross-training. Depending on your needs as a walker, you can choose equipment at a club or for your home to emphasize walking  muscles (treadmills, steppers, and  elliptical trainers), to emphasize opposing muscles (bicycles and rowing machines), or to train the whole body (ladderlike climbers, cross-country ski machines, and  dual-action bicycles).

Indoor workouts let you  distract yourself with television, movies, or reading—or simply offer a change of pace. They  also  allow  you  to stay home without missing your workout if you  have  a child  to watch or a telephone call to wait for. They can also  provide a safe way to work out before dawn  or after dark.

On most indoor equipment, you may feel as if you’re  working  harder than you would  during a walk. Let your  body  tell you how long the workout should be. Twenty to thirty minutes on most equipment will give you a good workout, but  you  can  lengthen the  workout as  needed or  desired. If you’re  at a club, make your  workout more interesting by working  out on three different pieces of equipment for 10 minutes each.


Swimming uses more muscles in the upper body, in contrast to walking’s nearly exclusive use of lower-body muscles. It also promotes flexibility where walking and other upright activities tend to tighten muscles. Walkers don’t need much of a break from impact, but  swimming’s fluid cushion eliminates pounding or strain from  gravity. Immersion in water can  soothe the  body  as  well as  the mind,  adding a peaceful alternative to street walks.

Swim laps  steadily for  30 minutes for  a workout equivalent to walking 30 minutes at 4 mph.


Walking doesn’t necessarily mean on city streets and  around your  neighborhood or local  park  like a robot. Walking can  also  mean heading for the  great outdoors and  hitting your  stride on dirt trails. You may  not  go as fast  or as evenly  paced as on pavement, but walking on uneven surfaces, such as dirt or gravel, adds an additional conditioning element for your lower legs and feet. It creates the  need for your  foot and  lower  legs to keep  you upright and  sparks proprioception, which means your muscles and nervous system are training to keep you balanced. Plus, you’ll be forced to move your  body  in different ways as you go up and  down  hills or over  and  around rocks or trees, all providing more balanced muscular training.

An additional benefit of hiking is, of course, getting out  into  nature, which is something you can enjoy  either by yourself, with a walking partner, or with your family.  Because walking  uphill  is more  difficult and  energy intensive, depending on the  softness of the  terrain, it can use 50 percent more calories. So if you take  a hike, you may need to go more slowly,  cover less  distance, or take extra breaks. Outdoors, breaks give you a chance to smell the flowers and trees and  observe wildlife, which are great additions to your  program.

Water Running or Walking

Running and walking aren’t just for land. You can do either in the water to relieve impact. When  you walk or run in water, the  higher the  water comes on your body, the more difficult your workout will be because you have to push through more resistance. Another work- out to consider is  deep-water running, where your  feet  don’t touch the bottom of the pool. Instead you are suspended and experience no  impact while emulating  a  runing  movement. This is a great workout if you have a lower-body injury or just  to  feel the  massage of the water. For intense  deep-water running, a specially made flotation  belt  helps you  stay  afloat, allowing  you  to focus  on  your technique. Water running and walking  workouts can  be  great cooling retreats in the  summer, as well as warming retreats in a heated pool  in the  winter.

If you  take your heart rate during a water workout, note that the number you  see  will be  lower by  10 to 15 percent than  your reading  on land. Researchers aren’t sure why, but  they  think  it has  to do with the  water’s resistance on  your body  helping pump the  blood.

Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi

Other superior cross-training activities fall under the  umbrella of mind–body fitness.  You likely  know  them as  practices called yoga,  Pilates, or tai chi. All have  become more popular since the  late  1990s. Many clubs offer these stretching, meditative, focused, strengthening activities, sometimes in various combinations. Because of the peaceful, inner focus  and the lengthening of the muscles involved, a mind–body fitness activity is a super addition to any fit- ness program, but  especially to one that contracts muscles, such as walking. Yoga can,  for example, increase flexibility,  but  it can  also  build  considerable strength, and  some types are  quite aerobic. Pilates is mostly a strengthener, particularly of your  abdominal and  core muscles, which can  be a great asset to walking.  Tai chi is a softer and  lighter activity but,  with  practice, can  also raise your  heart rate as  well as  build  strength. Before  you  add  these activities, you need some kind of instruction, be it at a studio or from a home video. These Eastern-influenced classes can be a wonderful multilevel cross-training component of your  walking routine.

Cross-Country Skiing

Just because you live someplace where it snows or you travel someplace snowy doesn’t mean you have  to sigh and give up your walking program. If you’d like something a little more technical than snowshoeing, try cross-country skiing. The easy  striding (classic) form is much like fast  walking  in the  way you use your arms, legs, and hips. The more advanced skating form is more difficult but could become a good cross-training tool because it demands significant balance and  stability, not  to mention extensive use of the  hip and  gluteal muscles.

Running or  Jogging

Perhaps you can’t or don’t want to run, which may be why you are getting into fitness walking. If so, skip this  section. But I prefer not to be a “walking snob,” just as I take offense at “running snobs.” One activity doesn’t have to preclude the other, and in fact, they complement each other. For example, taking an easy run or jog a couple of times a week, jogging for your cool-down, or run-walking (alternating running and walking) can be a nice way to let your walking muscles relax. Running and walking use different muscles, so adding in a bit of running is cross-training. Do not  be afraid to try it if it’s comfortable.

This  list barely scratches the  surface. In my list, I’ve focused on the  most basic and  most common. Others include golf, tennis, orienteering, paddling, skateboarding, and even ballroom dancing! Now’s the time to charge right into the  recommended workouts, all of which can be easily  tailored or mixed  and matched to suit  your  needs and  level.

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