How to see past the medical community’s fixation on walking

Joshua Trentine, president, Overload Fitness

Joshua Trentine, president, Overload Fitness

By Joshua Trentine

Walking does not generally qualify as exercise. A movement or activity is not perceived as a stimulus by the body unless it is demanding. An activity that does not render a muscular failure — an inability of the muscle to continue, reached within one to three minutes — is not demanding.

Walking can be continued ad infinitum because there is no meaningful muscular taxation. If walking becomes impossible, it is because the subject has become sleepy, hungry, generally fatigued, ridden with blisters, injured or dehydrated.

The muscles, per se, do not fail. They can go on and on and on. And since they can go on and on, and they are never meaningfully challenged, overuse syndromes are proportionately probable.

There are exceptions. Walking may indeed be exercise for individuals whom find walking is all but impossible. In this instance of debility, walking is momentarily and meaningfully demanding. It is therefore exercise for these people — there will be an “exercise effect,” but is it appropriate for such patients?

In my opinion, it is not the best form of rehabilitation for these debilitated people. I would prefer that these people were performing specific strength exercise for the musculature that is required for walking; that remaining upright and gait training is included to regain the skill of walking after the muscles are conditioned enough to provide sufficient support.

The best exercise and the best physical rehabilitation are done with high-intensity and low-force exercise that tracks muscle and joint function. These compressive forces are nourishing and healthful to our joints and articular cartilage, as well as strengthening to muscle and bone.

Even with such a benign activity as walking, our stance limb may be exposed to 2.3 times our body weight with a brisk pace. Under normal conditions this is no great issue, but for someone with a functional leg length difference, someone experiencing back pain or a person with arthritic knees, excessive walking in the name of exercise will only exacerbate these conditions, while the compressive forces of slow-speed, strength exercise are far safer and more therapeutic.

I often hear the adjective: low impact. This term is used indiscriminately to imply low force. On the contrary, low impact does not indicate low force. Relatively high force is encountered without an impact. Forces occur and vary depending on the rate of change in movement. Thus, excessive force can be encountered merely by jerking your limbs around in the air (a gas) or water (a liquid) — not just against a solid.

Notice the deliberate heel strike of those on walking programs as they briskly march about the neighborhoods or in shopping malls. And if a so-called march fracture can put a soldier out of commission, just imagine the chain of events that might follow with an elderly man or woman: immobility, foot surgery to relieve bone spurs, increased danger of falling while maneuvering with crutches, infection subsequent to surgery, and on and on.

In reality, exercise is just as much a chore as brushing one’s teeth, making the bed, washing the clothes, mowing the grass, washing the dishes or taking a bath. It is an absolute requirement for a normal, healthy life, and must not be confused with recreation any more than flossing one’s teeth or scrubbing the kitchen floor. Not enjoying it doesn’t factor into the matter. It must be done.

I expect that some will read this and conclude that it is passé. People may feel this attitude toward walking overlooks the fact that the exercise physiologists and mainstream medicine now acknowledge strength training as an important component of exercise.

No, they don’t. Strength training is not a component of exercise. It is the exercise.

Ditch the steady-state, low-intensity activities. It is anti-exercise. It is empty exercise. It is counterproductive and can even be injurious.

Joshua Trentine is president of Overload Fitness. Reach him at (216) 292-7569 or visit

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