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Walking briskly can be a full-body workout.
Walking and running can be full-body exercises, even though it seems like your legs are doing all the work. As your feet and legs carry you over the ground, your hips and torso work with each stride. Your arms swing, your heart pumps and your mind clears. And you burn calories. Understanding how the basic muscle groups work during walking and running can help you intensify your movements so you get more out of your exercise program.
From the Ground Up
A normal stride begins with the foot contacting the ground with the heel, then rolling inward as your weight shifts forward to engage the ball of the foot and push off with the toes. This works the muscles and tendons of the foot and ankle. The propulsive power of your stride is provided by the large muscles in the lower body -- the calves, the quadriceps and hamstrings in the front and back of your thighs, and the glutes or buttocks muscles.
Hip and Core Action
The leg motion of walking engages the hip and core muscles and helps strengthen the back as well. Running can put stress on the spine, but power walking can burn nearly as many calories without the stress. Walking with good posture -- shoulders back, spine upright and tummy and butt tucked -- gives your core muscles an additional workout. You can also add a slight swing of the hips, as in race walking, to increase your speed and calorie burn.
Arms, Shoulders and Chest
The natural swinging motion of your arms engages the muscles of your shoulders and chest. In ordinary walking, this movement is subtle, but you can increase your upper body workout. Bending your arms at a right angle at the elbow and swinging them from the shoulder increases your pace and activates the upper body muscles. Another approach is to use walking poles, which engages the arms, shoulders, chest and ab muscles while providing stability and reducing stress on the knees.
Walking or Running
In general, walking and running engage the same set of muscles, but running puts more stress on the joints and spine, which may be a consideration for older people or those with joint problems. However, running burns more calories. In 30 minutes of activity, a 150-pound person will burn about 135 calories brisk walking compared to 357 calories running. Power walking for 30 minutes will give the same person a 232-calorie burn. Your personal goals for your exercise program will tell you which activity to do. You can mix them up by alternating activities, even within the same day. Ten minutes of running on a treadmill in the morning plus 20 minutes of walking after work meets the minimum goal of 30 minutes of daily activity for adults.