Walk Hard 2: The Ask.Metafilter Story
February 19, 2008 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Walk longer or walk faster?

I want to start walking on a treadmill in order to build fitness, as I am fat and out of shape. I had in mind the idea of walking during a 1 hour television show, possibly with the idea of walking a little faster during the commercial breaks since I gather you're supposed to vary your tempo and stuff.

I went up and tried it today, set the treadmill to 2mph and bumped it up to 2.5mph during the commercial breaks. Made it almost half an hour and almost a complete mile before I was all sweaty and exhausted and out of breath. I could probably have walked longer if I had thought to bring water, but not for the whole hour at that pace.

So, in terms of building fitness, would it better for me to continue with the 2/2.5mph split and just do what I can manage, in the hope that this will gradually become a longer and longer period of time? Or should I slow down to a speed that I can manage the whole hour at, and then gradually increase the speed?

I'd rather avoid anything too much more complicated than that, though the treadmill has all kinds of programmy options and such, as it's not my treadmill and I don't know how to program it.
posted by jacquilynne to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. You should do a little of both -- one session should be long and slow, the next one shorter and faster. If you had a particular goal other than general fitness (e.g. "run a marathon" or "set a new record in the 100yd"), one would be definitely better than the other. But in this case, trading off different routines will keep you from falling into a rut, and increase your overall fitness level faster.

Also, your "fast" workout will be harder than the "slow" workout, so be sure to adjust your rest schedule appropriately (e.g. slow/slow/fast/rest or similar). I find I can listen to my body and figure out what works out well. If it's a fast day, and you're dreading it, put in a slow day. If it's a slow day and you want to really work it, make it a fast day.
posted by printdevil at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2008

Seconding printdevil. I lost 65 pounds by walking my treadmill an hour at a time. I had to build up to the hour, then I started increasing the speed and angle a little, but kept to my hour schedule. Any longer and I would have expired from the boredom.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2008

It all comes down to time and heart rate, not rate of speed or amount of sweat or distance walked. As a rule of thumb, you should walk for X minutes at Y heart rate, at whatever time and heart rate that are appropriate to your age and level of fitness. There are multiple heart rate calculators out there on the Web. You don't have to be perfect with the heart rate (you don't need a monitor, just a clock), but you have to be in the ballpark.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:08 PM on February 19, 2008

The longer/harder issue is oft debated as to which is more effective. From your description of your fitness level I think it is more important that you are consistent with your exercise. If you do it three times a week then do it three times a week, always, no exceptions. That being said, challenging your body to keep up with you is a solid way to 'build fitness'. If you can stick to it, go for it. If you find you need to slow down and catch your breath before you increase your speed again then do it.

If I can add one thing. Exercise is a great way to lose weight, but diet is equally important. It takes an hour to burn 500 calories but it takes one minute to eat them.

Keep up the good work.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:08 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

The answer given to me by multiple trainers is, it depends.

For endurance you want to go as long as you can, at a pace where you can hold a strained conversation but couldn't sing. This is the aerobic zone which will build cardiovascular endurance.

If you are out of breath, it means that you are going beyond aerobic exercise and starting to hit anaerobic metabolism. You probably want to do a bit of this to build strength.

And of course, you should be cooling down for 20 minutes at a pace that seems fairly slow, and stretching after warming up.

I wouldn't worry about duration at this point in time. The important thing is to start where you are, and build slowly.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

The important part is to get your heart rate up. Go for a pace that makes you feel like you're working but one at which you could still hold a conversation. You don't want to push yourself to exhaustion every time you work out. You could get injured (not to mention frustrated and burnt out). If the pace starts out OK but gets to be too hard, don't be afraid to slow down instead of stopping.
posted by Airhen at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2008

I can't speak from my own experience, I have a friend who has lost 50+ pounds in the past year, and she always swore by the long workout, rather than a fast/hard workout. If you are particularly heavy, the stress on your knees can be painful if you push it too much before you've lost a base level of the weight. Incidentally, she used Weight Watchers in addition to the exercise, and she sings its praises.

Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:12 PM on February 19, 2008

There was a "but" missing after the comma in my first sentence. And, to clarify, I can't speak from my own experience because I am too lazy to go to the gym (but probably should), not because I am super sexy. Well, I am super sexy, but I'm ain't that skinny anymore.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2008

I think CPB is right about focusing on heart rate. If you keep your heart rate in the right zone, you'll be able to keep going for whatever time you set your sights on. This will probably mean going much slower than you'd think. When I do longer runs where I change my speed to hit a target heart rate, it's often 20% slower than I'd normally run without that feedback. This is also important to avoid injury - the initial training ramp-up is a very easy time to overtrain and sideline yourself for weeks (or worse).
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:23 PM on February 19, 2008

KMFDM says "more and faster"
posted by travis08 at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good work! I've just started doing the same, it really beats thinking `I should go for a walk but I want to watch TV as well'.

I have read that if you're walking at a pace where you are breathing hard enough to prevent a regular conversation, you're doing okay. I walk comfortably at around 6.6 kph (4.1 mph), and can walk at 7.4kph (4.6mph) if I'm pushing it.

Really, any walking is good, and you will find that as you get fitter you will be able to bring the speed and incline up to meet your fitness levels.
posted by tomble at 5:30 PM on February 19, 2008

Faster, but not so much faster that you develop any overuse symptoms. If they appear, back off.
posted by caddis at 8:04 PM on February 19, 2008

The best study I know of is about the effects of frequency and duration on VO2 Max for runners. Basically, it says that increasing duration beyond 30 minutes yielded very little benefit and greatly increased the likelihood of injury. Of course, walking is different from running, but it's probably close enough to at least be a reasonable guideline. Also, a little OT, but you might also want to think about trading in 15 minutes of your aerobic workout for weight exercises. Light resistance training can be done in front of the TV too and is super effective.

Good luck!
posted by systematic at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2008

age predicted heart rate is 220-AGE

take this number and get your heart rate in the 65-75% of this number. have a cup of coffee, no sugar, splash of milk if you like and walk at a pace / incline that keeps you in this range for 45 mins first thing in the a.m. in a fasted state. then shower and eat breakfast. do this everyday. it's a great way to start your day and the fasted LISS or Low Intesnisty Steady State cardio has the lowest muscle loss to fat loss ratio...
posted by dawdle at 9:22 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you have the chance at all, consider walking in the fully immersive, three-dimensional, scent-enhanced, masterfully programmed recreational environment I fondly call 'outside'. Preferably toward a place you want to be. See also Urban Ranger: Yes! You can do that!

Aside from the surroundings issue, consider this a vote for KirkJobSluder's 'use the pace you can sustain'. It will gradually get faster all by itself. Working unto burnout frequently results in burned-out former exercisers.
posted by eritain at 11:50 PM on February 19, 2008

i would go with whichever is easier for you--when that becomes pretty easy, do the other thing. walking longer will help build your endurance/aerobic capacity, which is i think what is most desirable for weight loss. but really, anything you can stick with is great. so if you're more likely to exercise if you go 3 mph for half an hour, then do that. once you are in the habit, you can fine-tune it for your goals.

also, if you're really overweight, be careful with your knees. you might want to do some strengthening exercises for your legs and core to help support you and prevent injury.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:32 AM on February 20, 2008

Response by poster: Eritain: Currently, it's the windchill temp in my fully immersive recreational environment is currently -20. Not exactly 'I think I'll go for a stroll weather.'

Thanks for the advice, all. I'll try to make more sense of it and come up with a sensible plan, but I think right now, I'm going to go upstairs and walk for an hour, while curling is on.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2008

OK, here are some relevant facts that I totally wasn't thinking about before.

1. The reason exercise causes weight loss has much less to do with the calories burned during exercise, and much more to do with the effect of muscle on your metabolic rate. Assuming no change in diet, a pound of new muscle will burn off ten pounds of fat a year just by being part of you. So you want to add some muscle mass.

2. Strength and size are not built by exactly the same kind of exercise. The kind I recommended is better for strength/endurance. Size is better built by heavier loads, which is therefore what you want for weight loss. More or less the opposite of what I recommended.

3. That said, your aerobic capacity needs building up too. In fact, while it is low, it's getting in the way of building strength (because recovering from intense efforts requires, well, bloodflow). Therefore, thinkingwoman's advice beats mine.

4. I don't know much about Hell, but I'm fairly certain it has wind chill rather than lakes of molten brimstone. So I understand your reluctance. But once your local weather warms up some, I'll stand by that part of my advice too. I can enjoy anything above freezing anytime if I'm walking, whereas standing around I require another 15 degrees or so.
posted by eritain at 3:44 PM on March 5, 2008

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