Michele Stanten by Michele Stanten

When you compare walking to other popular workouts such as yoga, SoulCycle or boot camp, it may seem pretty pedestrian, but incorporating walking into your business plan may be more exciting than you think. Walking programs can open up you and/or your facility to new markets—particularly the 80 percent of the population that isn’t physical active or those who may be active, but aren’t meeting current recommendations. Not only is it an easy, non-intimidating form of exercise for those who are sedentary or self-conscious about their abilities, it’s also a good option for those with pain or joint issues.

This simple, yet effective workout may also lead to new business alliances. Because walking doesn’t cost a lot and most people can do it, employers may be more amenable to having you facilitate a walking program than other types of workouts. Walking’s low risk of injury and accessibility to all fitness level also makes these types of programs intriguing prospects for hospitals and doctors. Park and recreation departments and even grocery and drug stores are also potential partners, as they see the benefit in walking programs. For example, Wegman’s grocery stores in the Northeast created Passport to Family Wellness to encourage people to get active by exploring area trails, and Walgreen’s supports customers that walk by giving them reward points that can be redeemed for discounts on purchases.

Walking may be basic, but with a little creativity there are many ways you can use walking to benefit your business. Here are some fun programming options.

Walking Workouts

This traditional format begins with a warm-up and then some walking technique drills to help your clients gain speed for faster results. The majority of the workout consists of intervals for a challenging workout that will get your clients out of their comfort zones.

You can do basic interval walks—speeding up for 30 to 60 seconds and then recovering for an equal- or longer-length interval—as you walk from point A to point B.

A variation on traditional intervals is sprint drills.  Have your participants mark a starting point (with chalk, rock, bean bag) and then walk as fast as they can for a set time (20 to 30 seconds, depending on the space you have). When you say stop, they mark their end points. Repeat this as many times as appropriate, each time having participants aim to walk a little farther. Or have them try to beat the clock as they walk a set distance (25 to 50 meters depending on space) while being timed. Each time, they should aim to walk faster.

Another option is to find a hill and do repeats going up and down. Tracks also work well and allow you to mix in intervals of backward and sideways walking to target different muscles. You could even add in strength exercises to turn it into a walking boot-camp session or grab a resistance band and tone your upper body while you walk.

You can do walking workouts on local streets (pick low traffic times and areas), office parks, parks with trails, shopping areas, even parking lots or parking garages, depending on the time of day. Always get permission before using any area, as you may have to apply for a permit.

VIP Walks

VIP walks are more casual events aimed at more sedentary populations, but they’re a great way to introduce yourself to a whole new group of potential clients. Partner with other professionals to offer walk and talks. For example, have a Walk with the Mayor, Walk with a Doc, Walk with a Nutritionist, Walk with a Coach (from a local college or high school), Walk with an Author, or Walk with a Teacher. Start each walk with a 15-minute talk from both of you, and then follow it with a leisurely walk in which you and the other expert mingle and talk with the participants. A park with a looping path works best for these types of walks.

Train for a Race

Pick an event in your area, create an appropriate training plan and invite clients to train with you. I recommend at least five weeks for a 5K, 10 weeks for a 10K, 16 weeks for a half marathon, and 26 weeks for a full marathon. (Yes, you can walk all of these types of races; you just need to find events that welcome walkers.) Then provide the training plan, weekly encouragement, and daily reminders. You can do this all online or also offer group-training walks throughout.

Nature Walks

The focus of these walks is more about getting out and enjoying nature and less about a heart-pumping, sweaty workout. Pick a local park or hiking trail and invite clients to walk with you. It’s a great way to talk to people about the importance of exercise while they are getting some. Park and recreation departments are often open to these types of programs because it’s an opportunity to get more people using the parks.

Virtual Walking Challenges

Pick a hypothetical journey, such as walking from your town to a popular landmark—maybe it’s the North Pole if you’re doing this in the fall, or the beach if it’s a spring program—and invite folks to walk there with you by tracking their daily steps or minutes depending on the distance and length of the program. Use 2,000 steps to equal one mile. So, if the distance is 350 miles, you’d want to allow about 10 weeks for the program, which works out to about 10,000 steps a day. For longer distances, you might want to equate minutes with walking or combine everyone’s steps to get there. Then provide support throughout the program, including commentary on sights that they’d see along the way. Make it fun and interesting to keep them engaged.

Like you would with any new programming, start with a goal. Walking programs can be an additional revenue stream, or they can be marketing tools to introduce your services to new groups of potential clients. Next, identify the audience you want to target. No matter what your goal and audience are, start walking yourself. You’ll be better equipped to sell walking programs once you’ve experienced the power of walking.

To support Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities, ACE has created a free toolkit designed to help fitness professionals lead safe and effective walking programs, and become advocates for more walkable communities.

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