Here's what 30 minutes of power walking can do to your body

Two women power walking in active wear outdoors
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Walking workouts are becoming more popular as people look for accessible ways to clock up steps, burn calories and build strength. And with walking workouts like the Hot Girl Walk blowing up socials, we wondered what 30 minutes of power walking could do to your body.

Power walking requires a faster speed and increased arm movement compared with the average stroll and can be done on a treadmill or outdoors. Plus, there are several health benefits in return for cranking up the speed, and it’s free. 

According to the breast cancer organization Walk the Walk, power walking means ‘walking with a speed at the upper end of the natural range… typically this is around 4-5.5 mph.’ That’s roughly 7-9km/h. 

So, is it time to lace up a pair of the best running shoes and get power walking? We decided to find out what 30 minutes of power walking can do and answer if power walking is good for weight loss.  

What muscles do you work power walking?

The main muscles at work during a power walk are the glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Your quads at the front of the legs comprise the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis.

The hamstrings are located at the back of your legs between your knees and glutes and comprise the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. Then there’s the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and maximus that make up the glutes. 

During a power walk, you’ll also engage the upper body muscles like your arms, shoulders and core to help drive movement.

Is power walking good for weight loss?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and several days of muscle-strengthening activities that ‘involve all major muscle groups on two or more days.” 

Walking strengthens the muscles, joints and ligaments and ticks boxes for cardiovascular training, especially when you add speed. If your goal is to lose weight, aim to include activity at least five days per week and add intensity (like power walking) where you can. Power walking also engages many major muscle groups while adding intensity to your aerobic activity. Tick, tick, tick.

It’s worth remembering that the basics of fat loss are calories in versus calories out — you’ll need to consume fewer calories than you expend. Increasing your daily activity (a process called NEAT) and managing your diet can help tip the scales in your favor, but we don’t recommend counting calories too stringently for any length of time. Power walking is a brilliant way to increase activity levels while remaining low-impact and accessible for most people.

a photo of two women walking in sports bras

(Image credit: Getty/Science Photo Library)

But we want to know what 30 minutes of power walking does to your body. Power walking is an effective weight loss method for several reasons:

  • It’s low-impact
  • Power walking is accessible
  • You don’t need to walk for hours to see benefits
  • You can easily increase and decrease the intensity and duration of your power walk.
  • It’s free.

What can 30 minutes of power walking do to your body? 

There are several benefits of power walking. In fact, studies show just 30 minutes of walking a day could have some of these benefits: 

Burns calories

We put running vs power walking head to head to find out which burns more calories, and the results were closer than we anticipated. But it’s hard to know which wearables report the most accurate calorie burn, as we found out during this 500-calorie HIIT workout wearing the Apple Watch.

METs are another way to find averages using a standardized system and data like activity, heart rate and other personal information. Unless you visit a sports lab, estimating calorie burn is just that — an estimate. Calorie burn varies from person to person, and intensity, workout length and biological factors like age, weight, sex, hormones, stress and sleep matter.

We used the Omni Calculator, which uses the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities to measure average calorie burn while power walking. For example, a 32-year-old female weighing 120lbs, with a resting heart rate of 21 beats per 20 seconds, could burn 232kcal briskly walking a 5K at 0% gradient and 4mph (the lowest end of the power walking scale). 

That’s versus 250kcal at a 1% gradient and upward of 315kcal at a faster 5.5mph speed. The same calculator estimates calorie burn could hit 300kcal when walking at 5.5mph for 30 minutes. Gradient, intensity and duration can determine calorie burn while power walking. One study also found that brisk walking could help you lose abdominal fat. 

Builds strength

Power walking is a full-body workout and could help build lower-body strength, particularly when walking uphill or on uneven terrain. Walking also promotes the bone-building process called bone loading. The speed of power walking also engages your upper body to help forward propulsion, strengthening muscles all over. 

Woman going for a walking workout in nature wearing activewear

(Image credit: Getty images)

Improves cardiovascular fitness

A regular power walk of just 30 minutes could build cardiovascular fitness, stamina and endurance. Brisk walking raises the heart rate, improves blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery to your muscles, and strengthens your heart and lungs.  

Boosts wellbeing and brain function

Some research shows power walking could boost wellbeing, mood and cognitive function. Walking, particularly in nature, can improve feelings of connectedness and reduce stress levels, helping to ease feelings like anxiety and releasing those happy hormones — endorphins. Other studies suggest exercise could also be beneficial for hormone regulation. 

Improves sleep

One 2012 study on sleep data suggested that participating in a regular exercise training program could positively affect sleep quality. Here’s the best time to exercise if you want to schedule your power walks accordingly. Best of all, walking can be done anywhere, any time and doesn’t need to be vigorous to pack benefits in just 30 minutes.

How to burn more calories power walking

There are a few ways to increase calorie burn while power walking. Here are a few tips to help:

Choose uneven terrain

Getting outdoors, especially tackling hilly terrain, requires more energy, effort and air resistance. You could also switch between inclines and declines to target the muscle groups differently. For example, walking on an incline emphasizes the posterior chain muscles located down the back of the body and decline walking loads the quads more.  

Try interval training

During the exercise bike vs. walking debate, our expert advises power walking, which allows you to turn over longer distances in a shorter time. Add interval training to power walks by alternating between slower and faster paces using Tabata (20 seconds on and 10 seconds off), for example. HIIT — in this case, power walking and slow walking — requires more effort and could switch the body into its fat-burning state. Add bodyweight exercises like push-ups or burpees to increase your heart rate and build strength. Try power walking while holding light weights, or use a weighted vest.

Schedule morning power walks

Some research shows that fat oxidation increases during morning workouts in a fasted state. When the carb source runs out, your body will turn to fat next for fuel.  

Who should avoid power walking?

There aren’t many out-and-out contraindications when it comes to power walking, but if you have an injury or are pregnant, first clear exercise with your physician. According to Barclay Physical Therapy, the most common walking-related injuries include plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, ankle sprains, shin splints and Achilles Tendonopathy. 

Although walking strengthens the lower body muscles, be sure to wear a pair of the best walking shoes, keep your form strong and don’t increase duration or intensity too quickly, making sure to schedule recovery days. Some signs of overtraining include pain, stiffness and decreased exercise performance or tolerance. 

If you don’t enjoy power walking, there are plenty of other ways to introduce cardio into your workout routine. Here’s what 30 minutes on an exercise bike can do to your body, and we break down the treadmill vs exercise bike debate here to see which exercise is best for you.  

More from Tom's Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.