Walking vs Power Walking: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

Millions of people struggle to lose weight every year. Diet fads come and go, exercise plans attract thousands to individual routines of weights and machines, and everyone has their secret formula to sell you.

Well, here's the true secret: losing weight requires a caloric deficit. How you achieve that caloric deficit doesn't matter, so long as you do it. One pound of weight is around 3,500 calories, which means you need to burn that many calories more than you eat to lose that pound. Consider that the ideal diet for an average adult is between 2,000 and 2,600 calories per day, and you can see how difficult it is to achieve just through dieting.

Exercise is critical for efficient weight loss. It doesn't matter what exercise you do, but some exercises are more effective than others. For example, lifting weights can be effective at burning fat, but you also build muscle while doing it. Muscle is denser than fat. This means that you might lose fat, but stay at the same weight while you work out. Some people even gain weight, though they look better as their bodies reduce fat stores and replace them with muscle.

If you're not used to any kind of exercise at all, and you're more likely to be found sitting on the couch or at the computer than you are to be anywhere else, it's entirely possible that going to the gym won't work to help you lose weight.

Why is that? First, going from a completely sedentary lifestyle to one of active gym exercise is a huge leap. Most people have terrible stamina, poor cardiovascular systems, and damaged joints if they have been obese and sedentary for too long. Trying to go from no exercise to a stair machine or elliptical can be nearly impossible to keep up. It's painful! It's not enjoyable. It's hard to motivate yourself to lose weight when all you do is suffer and see no results (because you're barely burning calories with minimal exercise).

This is why walking and power walking are attractive options. They're physical activity with a low barrier to entry. You can walk around your house, around your neighborhood, or on a treadmill at the gym. 

The question is, is walking good enough, or should you jump directly to power walking? And what is power walking, anyway?

From Walking to Running

In terms of locomotive exercise, you can think of things on a scale from walking to sprinting or marathon running.

  • Walking is slow and relatively casual. 
  • Power walking is faster and focuses on arm movements to burn more calories.
  • Jogging is faster still and emphasizes cardio work while in motion.
  • Running is jogging but faster, often used in interval training and high-impact cardio.
  • Sprinting is running as fast and as hard as possible for a short time.
  • Marathon running is more like jogging, but for an extended duration and distance. Both are possible end goals for this style of exercise.

When you're sedentary and you're first starting out - marathons, sprints, and running are completely out of the question. Jogging can work, if you take it slow (often using a program like Couch To 5K), but even that can be too much if you're overweight and have bad joints and a bad cardio system.

Thus, when you're first starting out you essentially have to choose between walking and power walking for an introductory kind of exercise. What, exactly, is power walking?

Power Walking 101

Power walking is walking with a bit of aggression. Jogging and running typically have both feet leave the ground, while walking is a motion from one foot to the other with one always on the ground. Jogging and running are thus more high-impact on your feet and joints than walking or power walking. 

Power walking is walking at a rapid pace. You walk quickly, but there's more to it. You have to keep an appropriate posture while power walking because a large portion of the exercise you get is actually from your arms, not your legs.

That's right, your arms. Power walking asks you to hold your arms at 90-degree angles bent at the elbow. With a typical walking or running gait, you swing your arms in opposition to your legs; left leg and right arm forward, left arm and right leg forward, and repeat. 

You don't need to be forceful with your arm motions, but you should exaggerate them. Swing them gently but quickly, to help you move faster. Don't stick them out to the sides, hold them like chicken wings, or punch out with them as you power walk. Doing so can cause injuries if you're not careful.

Part of the technique of both exercise walking and power walking is rolling your feet. You want a smooth gait; your heel touches the ground, then you roll forward, to the ball of your foot, and then to your toes. Push forward with your toes to propel yourself into the next step with your other heel. 

Don't try to take very large steps. Multiple shorter, quicker steps are better than longer steps. Studies have shown that this kind of power walking can balance blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce BMI, and help you lose weight.

Power walking at a slower pace can burn around 300 calories per hour, where a brisk pace can increase that up to 400-450. At the higher end, your walking pace will be around 4.5 miles per hour.

Compare this to regular walking, which is a slower-paced exercise. With normal walking, you tend to burn between 200-250 calories per hour.

Power walking is more vigorous and faster than regular walking, and so burns more calories. You're still looking at around 8-12 hours of either exercise to lose a pound of fat, though.

Power Walking Vs. Walking: Considerations

There are some concerns and considerations that can help you decide between walking and power walking.

First up is the state of your joints. When you're overweight, all of that extra weight is constantly pressing down on your body. This puts a lot of extra pressure on your knees and ankles. They can get sore very easily, and if you step wrong or overdo your exercise, you can injure yourself. With the extra weight on those joints, rolling your ankle can turn from an unpleasant stumble into a dangerous fall, or a sprain into a break. The forces involved are larger.

Power walking may also require better-fitting shoes than normal walking. In general, you should wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes for any exercise you're doing. The more of a focus on your feet, the better the shoes you should wear. If you intend to go power walking regularly, it might be worthwhile to invest in a new set of running shoes.

You will also want to decide whether you intend to do your exercise at the gym or not. On one hand, walking and power walking does not require gym equipment. You can walk on sidewalks, along nature trails, or just laps around your yard. This can be more interesting and more fun, but you do have to contend with things like traffic and weather. Many people recommend wearing a high-visibility vest or other safety gear when out walking for that reason. 

Gym walking is easy as well. Every gym has treadmills, and it's easy enough to set and keep up a pace on a treadmill without worrying about things like traffic, uneven ground, or the weather. On the other hand, you do have to pay for a gym membership, which may be detrimental. Of course, it could be an incentive, if the cost keeps you walking.

Should You Take Up Power Walking?

Here's our recommendation: give it a try.

Power walking requires a rapid pace. You will need to be going between 4.5 and 5.5 miles per hour to keep up the pace in power walking. Whether you do this in the gym on a treadmill, or just set a destination roughly that distance away and try to make it on time, you can gauge how well you can keep up that pace.

If you can't manage that fast a pace, or if it hurts to do so, or if you can only keep it up for a short time, that's fine. Walk, as quickly as you can without hurting yourself, for as long as you can keep it up. Gradually push yourself to walk a little bit faster, whether it's in short bursts or overall. Try to start fast and go further than you managed last time. These are all techniques that start you with walking and push you into power walking through experience.

If your joints hurt, if your breathing is labored, if you can't keep up the pace; that's fine. Just stick with walking. It will improve; in fact, everyone trying new exercises starts slow and works up to pace. The goal is to do something you can keep up and stick with, not something you're going to drop after a week when it becomes too hard.

Some people insist that you carry small weights – usually, 2-3 pounds in dumbbell form – in each hand while you power walk. If you're just getting started, this isn't necessary. Additional weight adds an element of weightlifting to the arm motions and can help a power walker burn a little bit more calories through exercise, but it's barely a noticeable difference in anything other than the long term.

What About Jogging?

Jogging is fundamentally a little different than power walking because it's a higher impact version of the same exercise. The pace and the gait of jogging puts a lot more impact on your feet, ankles, and knees, and a lot of people can't handle that right away. Jogging when you can't handle it can injure your legs, and if that happens, you're going to struggle to keep exercising at all.

Generally, you don't want to dive into jogging or running if you're still trying to decide between walking and power walking. Keep the impact on your joints low, so you can keep healthy.

How to Make Power Walking More Effective

If you're interested in power walking, there are a few ways you can try out to make it a bit more effective.

First and foremost, make sure to keep up the pace. A treadmill is the best for this because you can set a speed that matches the pace you want to go, and it won't let you stop without stepping off or turning it down. Advanced treadmills can also add slopes and other dynamic adjustments to give you more of a varied challenge, but we recommend starting out slow. A flat surface, a 4.5 mile per hour pace, and a steady gait with arm movements is all you need.

Secondly, while you may not want to hear it, you should change your diet as well. Losing weight requires a caloric deficit, and while you can get that from one end or the other, it's better if you do both in conjunction. Eat healthier foods, cut sodas out of your diet, and drink more water. Once you get over the initial caffeine withdrawals and other issues, you'll find that you feel a lot better.

Finally, keep at it. Set yourself a personal goal to go power walking for at least an hour every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold, energetic or tired. Keep up this program for a full month. Studies find that keeping up a habit, even if you hate it and suffer during it, for three weeks, converts it from a task you hate to one that just is part of the routine. You become more accepting of the exercise, you feel better doing it, and you'll start to see some improvements.

And really, if you can't keep up the pace of power walking, just walk. Regular walking is the gateway to power walking, and it still burns some calories, even if it's not quite as effective. Sticking to a form of consistent cardio is much better than nothing at all - you should do what works best for you. 

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