This is a beginner’s walking routine. A beginning beginner. If you’re starting from a full sedentary life, this is for you. If you can walk but you generally don’t “go for walks,” this is for you. You may shop in grocery stores, trundle down to the mail box, take the garbage out, walk from your car to the office, but you’re not hiking, walking to the post office, taking strolls around the block, logging 10,000 steps a day.
Make no mistake, walking is truly exercise and must be approached as such.
People who ask me how to get started with exercise are surprised when I say: Just f**king walk. That’s it. Go for a walk. Start walking. Get moving. The responses are pretty similar across the board.
Isn’t exercise supposed to be hard? Yeah, but you build up to that.
Isn’t walking too easy? Sure, and that’s the whole point of doing it.
Is walking even exercise? Absolutely. It’s the foundation of every human movement pattern. You gotta walk before you run, swim, sprint, lift, cycle, row, paddle, play Ultimate frisbee, and everything else.
Before you begin, make sure you’re actually walking correctly. Here are some tips, tricks, and queues for ensuring you’re walking the right way.
Walk with feet pointing straight ahead. Avoid the duck foot, where you splay your feet out to the side. Doing so isn’t just inefficient (you’re moving forward and your toes should point in the direction you’re moving; pointing outward wastes energy), it’s ultimately damaging. If your feet are pointing to the sides, lots of bad things happen over time.
Your arches collapse, and then your knees collapse inwards. This can slowly degenerate your knee joint.
You land on the outside of your feet, rather than the whole foot. Bunions can develop, and then walking becomes painful.
Activate your glutes as you walk. Eventually, this happens subconsciously, but if you’ve spent a lot of time not moving or you sit a lot for work, your glutes may be “turned off.” To check glute activation, place your hands on your glutes as you walk. With each step, you should feel them activate under your hands. Get to know that feeling and then remove your hands, checking every few steps to make sure they’re still activating.
Maintain an upright posture. Imagine a string is attached to the top of your head lightly tugging you upward. Maintain that posture.
Don’t listen to music or podcasts or anything as you walk. Focus on the environment around you. Focus on your legs and feet and posture. Being aware of your environment also keeps you safe.
Walk with as little shoe as possible. Not everyone can manage this right away. If you have neglected your feet, if you have flat feet with poor arch support, if you simply don’t know how to walk without support, you can stick to your regular thick shoes. But work towards titrating down . Maybe take the insoles out. Maybe switch from a shoe with pronounced heel to one with a flat “zero-drop” heel. And then, once you feel comfortable enough, get a truly minimalist “barefoot” shoe. And then
Spend as much time as you can in bare feet. While I won’t recommend that everyone walk around outside of the house barefoot— I don’t know what kind of environment you’re dealing with— I will recommend that everyone go barefoot around the house. Get a feel for feeling the world with your feet. Allow those nerve endings to wake up from their slumber and begin transmitting information to your brain. While it may feel weird at first, eventually you’ll be at home in bare feet. Eventually your brain will start utilizing the sensory information coming in from the nerve endings on your feet and implementing the input. Your gait will improve and your walking ability will ascend.
Get comfortable walking on different terrains. It’s nice to start walking on flat linear surfaces like sidewalks, but you should graduate to uneven surfaces that activate different muscles in the feet and lower body. Walking on uneven, non-linear, bumpy, textured surfaces like sand, trails, hills, tree roots, gravel, and a million other types of walking surfaces will not only make walking healthier, it will make it more enjoyable and interesting.
Once you’ve internalized all that, you’re ready to start the walking regimen.
Beginner Walking Regimen
Well, it’s pretty simple. Just f**king walk.
But you want to start small, especially if you’re one of those true beginners I referenced earlier.
Week 1, Day 1
Walk around the block twice a day. This should take between 5-10 minutes each time. If you time your walks after meals, you will lower the blood glucose response and improve your metabolic health.
Week 1, Day 2
Walk around the block twice a day. This should again take between 5-10 minutes each time, but feel free to push the pace a bit if you feel up to it.
Week 1, Day 3
Note how you feel when you wake up. Any pain? Any stiffness? Do you feel like you have the energy to walk again, perhaps even farther? If so, take 2 slightly longer walks—10-15 minutes each. If not, keep your walks at 5-10 minutes.
Week 1, Day 4
Again note how you feel upon waking. If you’re feeling good, take the longer walks. If you’re still feeling a little sore or stiff, maintain the 5-10 minute-long walks.
Week 1, Day 5
By now, you’re ready for a long walk. Early in the day, take a short 5-10 minute walk as normal. Then, for your next walk, push it to a half hour. 30 minutes of pure, unadulterated walking.
Week 1, Day 6
Take a good long walk. Ideally, find a hiking trail nearby. Try to go for at least an hour straight. Go as slow as you need to, but just keep walking.
Week 1, Day 7
Rest. Take a short 5 minute walk after your main meals, but otherwise keep it light.
Follow the same basic schedule, starting where you left off. If you were taking 2 15 minute walks a day, start there and work your way back up, adding 5-10 minutes to your walks as you feel up to it. Instead of a 30 minute walk on Day 5, go for 45 minutes. Instead of an hour long walk or hike on Day 6, do an hour and a half. As always, don’t be shy about titrating your time down if you feel like you’re going too fast. Walking should always be comfortable, always be pleasurable.
Repeat. Add 5-10 minutes to your twice daily walks. Add another 15 minute onto your longer Day 5 walk and another half hour to your Day 6 hike or walk.
Repeat and add time as needed.
Repeat and add time as needed. If you feel up to it, consider adding some resistance. You can carry light dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands for the short walks. You can put a few heavy items in a backpack and wear it. Or not. It’s just an option if you want to spice things up.
Week 6 onward
Keep adding time and adding weight to walks when you feel up to it. I wouldn’t do heavy loaded walks every day, but they can be nice 1-3 times a week.
By week 6, you should live and breathe walking. It should be part of your day, part of your routine, part of YOU. Because it is part of you. Walking, as I’ve often said, is the human condition. That’s what humans do: we just walk around. We walk for pleasure, for sustenance, for adventure, and for no reason at all.
Okay, enough talk. Go walk!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.