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Build your base.
Start by focusing on distance and good form—you're not trying to win a race. If you're new to walking, gradually build up to 30 minutes. Both novices and regular walkers (who make 45 minutes their goal) need to think about posture: shoulders back, elbows in, chin up. And no arching the lower back or sticking out your butt. This solid foundation will help you avoid injury while making it easy to add in additional challenges, like the ones following.
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Monitor your progress.
While you're walking, think about how hard you're pushing yourself. On an exertion scale from 0 to 10 (with 0 being "easy" and 10 being "very, very difficult") you want to go beyond the 3 or 4 most people settle on. Crank it up to a 6 or 7 to get fat-burning engines revved and running. How do you know you're there? Do the talk test. You should be walking swiftly enough so that you can talk a little but find it difficult to carry on a conversation. If you're walking alone, it should be a struggle to sing along with your iPod for more than a few verses.
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Twice a week skip walking and zero in on upper-body strength—you'll increase your metabolism even while at rest. Plus, strong arms, shoulders, back, and chest propel you forward, meaning you'll walk faster and burn more calories. Use light weights or resistance tubes to work your entire upper body with 4 easy moves (3 sets, 15 reps each): biceps curls, triceps extensions, overhead presses, and one-armed rows. Click on the link below for how-tos.
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Speed it up.
The number-one way to dramatically increase calorie burn is by doing intervals. For 3 minutes push yourself until you're at a 7 or 8, then recover for a full minute back at a 3. Repeat a few times throughout your walk. If you find you no longer need the recovery period, push a little harder during the intervals.
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Focus on the toes.
While you're walking, concentrate on actively pulling up your toes as your legs swing forward. Engaging the front part of your calf (the tibialis muscle) will strengthen your leg muscles and help move you forward more quickly.
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Walk the line.
On your next walk, imagine a thin, straight line in front of you. Adjust your stride so that the inside of your foot touches this imaginary line each time you take a step. Walking the line forces you to rotate your pelvis and extend your hips slightly, which lengthens your stride and allows you to cover more distance in less time—and burn even more calories.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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