Why walking is good for bodybuilders

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Walking doesn’t sound very hardcore, but for bodybuilders who want to lose fat it may be the best form of exercise. Besides strength training, of course. The four most important benefits of walking.


‘Ordinary’ walking, ie at an average adult pace (about 5 km per hour), is a low-intensity form of exercise. The primary fuel that the body uses is fat and not glucose (the energy from carbohydrates). That means that you burn fat directly by walking i ] .

How come? Fat is not an efficient form of energy: it requires an extensive chemical reaction and therefore sufficient oxygen. In the cardio with a low intensity (also known as Low Intensity Steady State, or LISS), which oxygen is available. This allows your body to draw on your fat reserves and save other energy sources for more intensive activities. This also applies to some extent to other forms of LISS, such as gentle cycling and swimming.

Now it is irrelevant for the total fat burning from which source your body gets its energy. Getting energy from fat instead of carbohydrates does not automatically mean that you burn more calories. After all, how much body fat you lose in a day is determined by how much energy you use in total more than you get through your diet.

But bodybuilders form a special category among the dropouts. They don’t just lose weight, they cut. This means that in addition to fat loss, muscle retention is also the goal. And walking can help them do that in two ways.


First of all, walking ensures that your body is not using muscle mass for energy, even if you do it for hours on end. Something that is possible with prolonged cardio at a higher intensity. After all, glucose is the primary source of energy and once it is used up, the body converts amino acids into glucose to get energy. It extracts these amino acids from proteins from your diet, but also from the muscles if necessary. As we have already seen, walking does not require glucose.


Second, walking can save precious energy that you as a bodybuilder need for your strength training. The primary source of strength training is glycogen, the energy that comes from glucose. This is largely stored in the muscles. A smaller portion is stored in the liver. As long as your glycogen stores are filled, you can perform well during your workout. That is why it is important that you use the already scarce carbohydrates during cutting as much as possible for your training.

If your glycogen stores are depleted, you can train less intensively over time, which can result in muscle loss. In addition, your body is looking for other sources of energy. In the first instance these are the glycogen stores in your liver (which lowers your blood sugar level), secondly your stored fats (a less efficient source of energy for strength training) and finally proteins x ] . The latter leads to the breakdown of proteins in your muscles, so that you also lose muscle mass.

By walking you burn fat, but your glycogen stores are spared. To quote Professor Maria Hopman:

Running does a person on carbohydrates, glycogen to be precise. For walking, the body uses its fat stores to save glycogen for when that lion suddenly appears from the bushes. ii ]

Unfortunately, our body is programmed in such a way that it compensates for the use of different energy sources. So if you have walked for two hours and have consumed a relatively large amount of fat, you will use relatively more carbohydrates during the activities afterwards iii ] . That’s why it’s best to walk short before your strength training session. If you also consume (fast) carbohydrates prior to training, you are assured of optimally filled glycogen stores during the training. ‘Optimal’ for the training-unfriendly conditions of the cut.

Finally, this: whether you walk or not, with prolonged cutting, your glycogen stores will be depleted anyway. Because sooner or later your energy balance has decreased to such an extent due to the slowing down of the metabolism that you no longer get your glycogen stores sufficiently supplemented with carbohydrates from food. Hence our advice to cut with breaks (refeeds or diet breaks).


As a bodybuilder, strength training should be your top priority, even during the cut. Doing cardio shouldn’t get in the way of your strength training performance and recovery. To put it with coach, scientist and author Eric Helms:

Remember that you’re a weightlifter first.

Now you can certainly combine strength training with other sports (‘competitive training’), without your gains suffering. See top footballers taking off their shirts after the game. Despite doing many other types of training besides strength training, almost all of them have muscular torsos. Or read the book ‘The Hybrid Athlete’. In it, Alex Viada describes how he was able to simultaneously excel in powerlifting and running.

The fear of the negative effects of competitor training therefore seems somewhat exaggerated, as also shown by a recent meta-study on combining strength training and HIIT iv ] . As long as you keep the amount within limits, HIIT will not come at the expense of your muscle growth or maintenance.

But not everyone lives like a top athlete. Stress, lack of sleep and inadequate nutrition cannot always be avoided in the hectic everyday life. If you also have to live on a significant energy deficit, it is better to keep your total training load limited. Walking is an excellent option, because your body hardly needs to recover from it. In fact, walking increases circulation, which actually aids in recovery from injuries and even training i ] [ v ] [ vi ] .

Finally, walking leaves your stress hormone cortisol alone. While all other forms of exercise raise your cortisol level, walking can actually lower it (see next point). That is also important for muscle maintenance. Endurance training of medium or high intensity (for example, cycling or running) can raise your cortisol level to such an extent that certain proteins in your muscles are broken down. Although it also applies here that you already have to do an excessive amount of endurance training if your body wants to eat your muscle mass.


Another thing that you should avoid as a bodybuilder for optimal muscle recovery, especially during the cut: stress. Walking can also help with that. We already saw that with walking, due to the low training load, there is no increase in cortisol. But walking can actually reduce stress!

A daily walk can give you a huge mental boost. Walking improves your mood vii ] , expands your creative mind viii ] and reduces negative thoughts, especially if you do it in the great outdoors ix ] .


With cardio you correlate calories, which can undeniably contribute to fat loss. But doing cardio also makes you hungry. After a strong endurance effort usually follows a strong pull. If you give in to that, your cardio will be for naught — at least, in terms of fat loss.

Walking, on the other hand, has much less influence on your appetite due to its low impact character. According to a 2010 study:

An acute bout of subjectively paced brisk walking does not elicit compensatory responses in acylated ghrelin, appetite, or energy intake. This finding lends support for a role of brisk walking in weight management. xi ]


Walking also has a disadvantage: it takes a relatively long time. Endurance training and HIIT are undeniably much faster ways to burn fat.

For walking, the rule of thumb is that you burn about 60 kcal per kilometer travelled, based on an average walking pace (about 5 km/h). That equates to about 300 kcal per hour. Others use the rule that you burn your weight in kcal per km, so for example 75 kcal if you weigh 75 kg. Although this seems a bit on the high side at 5 km/h. You can use a walking calculator to get a more accurate estimate of the number of calories you walk away.

With a good HIIT session you will burn those 300 kcal within 20 minutes. HIIT and other forms of intensive cardio are therefore a lot more efficient than walking: you burn less fat directly, but you burn significantly more calories than with walking. This allows you to create a larger calorie deficit and ultimately burn more fat. Walking is therefore not popular with many dropouts. But hopefully in this article we have made it clear to you that fat loss in bodybuilders is a much more complex task, for which walking offers some unique benefits.

Also remember that you can easily integrate walking into your daily life: walking to work or to the store, for example. Or to the gym.


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