Fitness & Exercise

5 bodyweight exercises for walkers who want to level up

Walk faster and farther by strengthening the muscles that power your strolls.

The beauty of walking is that it’s a simple activity that delivers major health benefits. And adding a little oomph—in the form of a quicker pace or longer distance—can help you click into a higher burn rate and progress toward another fitness goal, like conquering a 10K.

Consider strength training your secret weapon for amping up your walking regimen. “When you strengthen the muscles that propel and support your body when you walk, you can go farther and move faster with less effort,” says Michele Stanten, a certified fitness instructor and the author of Walk Off Weight. The bodyweight exercises below require no special equipment and strengthen every walking muscle to help power up your stride. Complete this routine twice a week, and soon the miles and minutes will be flying by.

Best bodyweight exercises for walkers

Which muscles should walkers focus on strengthening? “The ones in the butt, thighs, shins, and calves are the primary movers when you walk,” says Michelle Lovitt, a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist. “The hamstrings, core, and hip muscles are important, too, since they stabilize the hip when your leg swings.” That list may seem long, but these five moves—hand-picked by Lovitt—cover them all. Perform two sets of each exercise, taking a minute to catch your breath between sets or moves if needed.

1. Walking lunge

This move strengthens the muscles in your butt (glutes) and thighs (quads and hamstrings), which are key for powering you up hills.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips.
  • Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both knees until your right thigh is nearly parallel to the floor.
  • Stand up and immediately take a big step forward with your left foot and bend both knees until your left thigh is nearly parallel to the floor. Stand up to complete 1 rep. Do 10 reps.

To make it easier: Lunge in place; complete all reps on one side and then repeat on the opposite side.

2. Bridge

This exercise targets your core and hamstrings to boost your stability—key when you’re on uneven terrain like a dirt trail. It also strengthens the glutes, which help power your steps.

How to do it:

  • Lie faceup on the floor (or a mat) with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Extend your arms at your sides, palms on the floor.
  • Push through your heels as you lift your hips until your body forms a line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Hold for 1 count, then lower your hips to the starting position to complete 1 rep. Do 10 to 15 reps.

To make it harder: Hold one leg extended straight out in front of you as you lift and lower your hips; switch legs on the next set.

3. Heel walk

Shoring up the shin muscles, like you will with this move, may be especially beneficial for speed. “Shin pain is one of the most common complaints when people start to walk faster,” Stanten says. “But as the shin muscles strengthen, the pain subsides.”

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms extended at your sides.
  • Flex your feet, pointing your toes toward the ceiling and balancing your weight in your heels.
  • Step forward with right heel, then left. Continue, walking around on your heels, for 50 steps total (25 for each foot.)

4. Calf raise

Strengthening your calf muscles, with exercises like this one, can help increase your endurance.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands on hips (or hold the edge of a counter for support.)
  • Slowly lift your heels, rising up onto the balls of your feet.
  • Slowly lower your heels to the floor to complete 1 rep. Do 20 reps.

To make it harder: Bend one knee and do single-leg raises instead, switching legs halfway through each set (after 10 reps).

5. Bird dog

This exercise strengthens your core (the muscles of your torso) to increase your stability, and boosts your balance as well.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours on the floor with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees slightly wider apart than your hips.

  • Extend your right arm straight out in front of you as you extend your left leg straight behind you. Hold for 1 count, then return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side, extending your left arm and your right leg, to complete 1 rep. Do 10 reps.

To make it harder: After getting on all fours, place the balls of your feet on the floor and lift your knees (keep them bent). Then extend your arm and leg.

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Jeanine Detz is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She has contributed to many publications, including Consumer Reports on Health, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, Men’s Health, Parents, and Women’s Health.

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