If you’re anything like me, the idea of donning the lycra on a cold dark morning makes your heart drop. I love to exercise. I mean it, I love running, cycling, swimming, hiking – all of it. But when the mercury plummets and the mornings get dark it’s the blanket that slipped off the bed that’s calling me, not my trainers.

Fortunately – there’s an answer. Valuable cardio exercise that you can do wearing your cosiest coat and comfiest gloves, that’s completely free. Walking.

Serious Training

Not every workout needs to be hot & sweaty. Even for the most elite of athletes, like Eliud Kipchoge the Kenyan Athlete who recently completed a Marathon in under two hours, slow & steady is a serious & essential part of their training. Just check out his recent training session in the video.

Slow & Steady to Build Endurance

High performance coaches, like Dr Iñigo San Milan, recommend that endurance athletes do the majority of their training in a slow & steady state called “Zone 2”. This means exercising with a heart rate of 60-70% of your maximum. Training in this zone 3-4 times per week has been proven to increase Aerobic capacity & build endurance for athletes at all levels meaning it’s a powerful way to spend winter mornings! We’ve popped a rough table of heart rate zones for you at the bottom of this article if you’re interested.

Slow & Steady to Burn Fat

This “Zone 2” training has another big benefit; we burn fat as fuel when we do it. During more strenuous exercise, our bodies convert carbohydrate stores for energy because we need energy fast, but in this steady state it can keep up with demand by using fat stores. This isn’t just about losing weight though; it’s powerful protection against disease too.

Just high enough impact

Maintaining good bone density is an often overlooked benefit of exercise. Especially as we age and experience menopause, diet & activity is essential to preserve strong bones. For most, walking is low enough impact to protect joints but walking just one mile a day has a material effect on lower body bone density. Try and include some kind of weight bearing upper body exercise in your regime too for your upper body.

Maximising your walks

Knowing how powerful walking can be for our wellbeing, how can we make the most out of our walks? Here’s our guide to getting an effective walking workout in, right from the very start.

Lay out your layers

Getting your clothes out in advance makes dragging yourself out of bed on a dark morning much easier; especially if you know you’ve got comfy clothes to slide into. Our advice is to layer up to make it easier to manage your temperature as a) the day warms up and b) your heart rate rises. Think comfy t-shirt, zippy fleece, thin outer coat + extra cosy bits like hat, scarf & gloves that you can easily remove. Any comfy shoes – like trainers or walking boots – that don’t rub will work (but if you’re really ramping up the miles, get something specific). If it’s going to be very dark when you head out, have a torch ready too.

Ready your Route

Planning where you’re going to go gives you the best chance of sticking to it. Brisk walking pace is just over 3 miles per hour, so we’re looking for a route of at least 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Tools and apps like Strava, MapMyRun, Ordnance Survey & Google Maps are great for planning your route.

Countdown to launch

No amount of prepping in advance can actually get you out of bed. Use Mel Robbins’ Five Second Rule to launch yourself out. Put on your best Space Rocket Launch voice and count down; Five… Four… Three… Two… One… GO! It sounds ludicrous, I know, but it feels like play and it really works! I get my socks on first – nothing seems as bad when your feet are warm!

Focus on your form

Ok, kit on and we’ve made it out the door. Now it’s simply a matter of one foot in front of the other. It’s slow & steady we’re going for, not Sunday stroll, so consciously focus on your form when you head out. Keep your head up, back straight, shoulders relaxed & keep your core strong & stable. It’s normal for your form to slip, so we use a mental body scan to check our form every ten minutes or so. Scan your body top to bottom – check shoulders, back, core, tailbone – notice and put right anything that’s slipped.

Pace your Pulse

Remember we’re going for Zone 2 heart rate here – which should be a brisk walk, not a stroll. If you’ve got a smart watch, that’s a great way to monitor it, but you can also use a simple trick to make sure you’re working hard enough. You should be able to talk comfortably, but not be able to sing a song. If you’re taking a breathe half way through your favourite Adele lyric, you’re probably in the right zone.

You can boost your heart rate in a few ways. Speed up a bit, swing your arms a bit more, find an incline to walk up, even try walking with a load – like hand weights or a well fitted rucksack.

Rinse & repeat

Making walking a daily routine, especially during the winter months, is a powerful habit to build so reward yourself with a quick FOGA when you get back to help top up your micronutrients to refuel & recover. Then repeat again tomorrow! Ideally 3-4 focussed walks a week of 30-90 minutes, plus any other exercise that you love to do.

Do you walk every day? Have we missed any of your favourite tips? Let us know so we can share your knowledge with our FOGA Family!

Approximate Heart Rate Zones by Age

This table sets out approximate heart rate zones; it should be used for guidance only and adapted to suit you. Please take expert advice before embarking on any strenuous heart rate based exercise.

AgeMaximum Heart RateZone 1Zone 2Zone 3Zone 4Zone 5
20200100 – 120120 – 140140 – 160160 – 180180 – 200
25195100 – 120120 – 140140 – 160160 – 180180 – 200
30190100 – 110110 – 130130 – 150150 – 170170 – 190
3518590 – 110110 – 130130 – 150150 – 170170 – 190
4018090 – 110110 – 130130 – 140140 – 160160 – 180
4517590 – 110110 – 120120 – 140140 – 160160 – 180
5017090 – 100100 – 120120 – 140140 – 150150 – 170
5516580 – 100100 – 120120 – 130130 – 150150 – 170
6016080 – 100100 – 110110 – 130130 – 140140 – 160
6515580 – 9090 – 110110 – 120120 – 140140 – 160
7015080 – 9090 – 110110 – 120120 – 140140 – 150
7514570 – 9090 – 100100 – 120120 – 130130 – 150
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