In addition to burning fat and calories, walking builds muscles. You may have noticed that serious walkers have particularly shapely legs -- not "toothpick" legs or "thunder thighs." The reason is that walking builds, shapes, and tones muscles of the legs, hips, and buttocks.
Walking also boosts the strength and endurance of those muscles, which means you'll be able to do more with less fatigue. According to David Winter, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, these are the main muscle groups walking affects:
- Calf muscles: Walking is excellent for developing shapely calf muscles. The calf muscles provide the upward and forward momentum for the "pushoff" phase of walking, which lifts the heel off the ground.
- Tibialis anterior and ankle extensor muscles: These muscles, which run along the anterior side of each shin, raise the toes and foot during the leg's forward motion (or "swing") phase. The muscles then lower the toes and foot as the heel hits the ground.
- Hamstring muscles: Walking's pushoff phase (hip extension) works the hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs.
- Quadriceps muscles: These muscles at the front of the thighs are used as each leg is extended.
- Hip flexor muscles: The hip flexor muscles lift the thigh forward in the "swing" phase of the stride.
- Buttock muscles: Rocking the hips during brisk walking works the gluteal (butt) muscles.
- Abdominal muscles: Making a point of walking with natural, upright posture can strengthen the abdominal muscles.
- Arm and shoulder muscles: These muscles are used when you pump your arms vigorously, up to chest or shoulder level, while walking (the left arm swings forward naturally as the right leg strides ahead, and vice versa).
Methods abound for enhancing the muscle-toning action. You can increase the involvement of the leg-lifting quadriceps by walking uphill -- and even downhill. And by lengthening your stride and walking faster, you'll demand more of the hamstrings, hip flexors, and buttocks.
To substantially increase strength and muscle tone in the upper body, however, you'll probably need to do extra exercises, like push-ups and chin-ups. Weight training is also a good way to enhance the strength of the muscles of both the upper and lower body.
Throughout your walking program, it's very important to stretch your muscles both before and after your walks to maintain your flexibility and ward off injury.
Walking also works another muscle: the heart. Learn how walking improves aerobic capacity next.
To learn more about walking, see: