Walking is a great form of exercise and it’s accessible to all. It gets your blood pumping, improves your cardiovascular fitness, can help you lose weight, and you can do it just about anywhere.
The NHS confirms that a brisk 10 minute daily walk counts towards your 150 active minutes target, and BUPA suggest that walking can improve your mood, reduce stress, help you sleep better and increase your energy.
But besides all the many health benefits, did you know that walking was also great for exercising muscles all across your body?
TED Ed tells us that every time we take a step, it uses 200 different muscles in unison!
Don’t worry, we’re not going to review all 200 muscles – but let’s look at the major muscles that are involved in walking.
Your calves are muscles in the back of your lower leg. You can feel them at the back of your legs, right below the knee.
The calf muscles are made up of two muscles: the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. The gastrocnemius muscle is a two headed muscle that starts at the back of your thighbone, and the soleus muscle attaches under the gastrocnemius and runs down to attach to the heel bone.
When you’re walking, your calf muscles are used to help push you off the ground and propel you forward. Your calf muscles are also important for maintaining your balance and stability when you walk.
Can walking help to tone your calves? It depends. If you’re a regular brisk walker – the repeated exercise will absolutely help your calf definition. But if you’re really after calf definition – exercises like skipping, calf raises, jumping jacks and mountain climbers are potentially more effective.
Your glutes are located in your buttocks.
Most people think immediately of the gluteus maximus when talking about glutes, but there are two other major muscles to be aware of – your gluteus minimus and gluteus medius.
The glute muscles all work together to move and rotate your legs, and stabilise your body.
When you’re walking, the gluteus maximus is hard at work, extending the hip of your rear leg as you stride. The gluteus minimus and gluteus minimus make sure you remain stable, and helps move the leg away from the body.
If you want to give your glutes more of a workout when you’re walking, try walking uphill. Walking at an incline adds the power of gravity to your walk, and requires your glutes and quadriceps to work harder. So try walking on an incline if you want to tone your glutes!
Your quads are a group of four muscles that are found in your thigh – the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medalis, and vastus intermedius.
All four leg muscles work together to help you stand, walk and move around. They also work to provide stability to your knee.
When you’re walking, the quads help to straighten your legs by flexing the hips and extending your knees.
Your hamstrings are a group of three muscles that are found in the back of your thigh, called the Semitendinosus, the Semimembranosus and Biceps femoris.
The hamstring muscle group handles the movement of your hip and your knee when you’re walking – but in the opposite way to your quads, as the hamstrings flex the knees and extend your hips.
Walking can absolutely help build up endurance in your hamstring muscles, but to help develop tone and strength consider other workouts such as leg curls, Romanian deadlifts and hamstring slides.
Core & Upper Body
Walking doesn’t only involve your leg muscles – it also engages your abdominal muscles, flexor and extensor muscles in your shoulders, and back muscles.
Your abdominal muscles work with the erector spinae muscles in your back to help control the stability of your body as you walk. The flexor and extensor muscles in your shoulders are used when you move your arms backwards and forwards.
Ideas for increasing muscle usage when you walk.
If you do want to engage more upper body muscles as you walk, consider carrying some hand weights and exaggerate a gentle arm swing. This will help activate your lower arm muscles.
Another idea for getting a more active workout from your walk is to step up the pace a little bit. When you walk faster, certain muscles such as your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and soleus are used more intensively.
Walking on an incline is also great for making your glutes, hamstrings and quads work a little harder.