Most people have a preferred form of movement, but from time-to-time, the body calls for a change. Cross-training, essentially, is that change in your usual, day-to-day workout. It pairs different workouts together to support your athletic journey, your training schedule, and your workouts as a whole. You work new muscles, keep up your fitness, become a more well-rounded athlete, and even sidestep potential injuries.
“There is no one perfect form of cross-training,” says Janet Hamilton, certified strength and conditioning specialist and registered clinical exercise physiologist. If you’re a runner, you might swim. If you’re a cyclist, you might try a yoga class. If strength training is your jam, you might try rowing.
But when it comes to choosing a form of cross-training, walking shouldn’t be overlooked because it checks many boxes. Here, the unexpected (and often underrated) benefits of taking a walk when you’re looking to change things up:
“Unlike running, when you walk, there is no ‘float phase,’” explains Hamilton. “What this means, in a practical sense, is you’re always generating or absorbing force.” Your hips are key in generating that force, and your core is key in efficiently transferring it, she explains. “The faster you walk, the greater the force you have to generate.” Thus, when done properly — especially if you’re moving at a pretty good clip — walking provides a solid hip and core workout.
Walking is still weight-bearing, but it’s gentler on your joints than running, meaning it’s a solid workout for your bones. Walking is a particularly attractive cross-training activity for runners, in particular, since it’s similar. “The more you can make an activity resemble the one you are primarily training for, the more effective that activity will be as a cross-training activity,” says Hamilton. “The value of walking lies not only in its aerobic demand but also in its specific biomechanical and neuromotor patterns that strongly resemble the patterns used in running.”
Swimming might be a great form of cross-training, but it’s not exactly easy to keep up a conversation in the middle of laps. “Walking gives you more time to enjoy your surroundings — nature, interesting sights — and also can be a good social activity or a way to have a work meeting, which is hard to do with other forms of cross-training,” says Carol Ewing Garber, PhD, a professor in the department of biobehavioral sciences and program director of applied physiology at Teachers College at Columbia University. That’s important considering social support is one of the best ways to stick to an exercise routine. Some research even finds sports with a social element are linked with the greatest gain in life expectancy.
Walking can be done whenever — as a warmup or cooldown to a workout; to break up long periods of sitting; as a workout on its own — and wherever (on vacation, at home or in your neighborhood), which means there are few chances for excuses to skip your walk. You can even get in a good walking workout in just 10 minutes.
What’s more, “walking is a skill that people already have mastered — there’s no learning involved in taking a walk,” says Sabrena Jo, director of science and research at ACE. (Again, no chance you can say you don’t know how to do it so you’re skipping it.)
Walking can be used as a form of cross-training on easy days. “Especially for those who do vigorous modes of exercise, walking is a great way to allow some active recovery between hard workout sessions,” says Jo. “If you have muscular soreness or fatigue from a hard workout, interspersing a day of light activity, like walking, is healthy for your soft tissues, joints and mental well-being.” Pursue it on days when you need a break from more vigorous training for a circulation boost and dose of recovery.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.