Despite my best efforts, there are some days where the only exercise I get is from walking my dog. I’ve mentioned this to people (I’m looking at you, doctors!) who give me a look that clearly says “I’m trying not to roll my eyes right now” while telling me that I should really do more regular “real” exercise. So let me explain: my dog walks aren’t leisurely strolls where we stop to sniff the sunflowers—my puppy pal and I set a brisk pace and incorporate all kinds of cross-training into the routine to make it a little more exciting and a lot more beneficial for our bods.
So whether you’re too busy to squeeze a workout in every day or you’re just looking to make your daily dog walks a little more challenging, check out the tips below and elevate your canine stroll to the next level.
1. Go Up and Down Hills
Plan your route so that you’re not stuck on flat land. Incorporate hills to go up and down, and if you can do some off-road trails, even better. The uneven terrain works different muscles and causes you to exert more energy to stay balanced, giving you a more efficient workout. If you live in a place without hills, see if you can go up and down some steps instead.
2. Walk Fast
Pick your pace up a bit—aim for under 15 minutes per mile, and get quicker over time. Who knows? Before long, you might be jogging. This one might take some convincing your canine pal—usually after a few times of me saying “Come on!” when she tries to stop and sniff something, my dog Hattie understands that this is the time for a “serious” walk, and she’ll get down to business, too.
3. Do Sprint Intervals
Incorporate sprints (or jogs—whatever your fitness level) into your walk. An easy way to do this is to follow the early weeks of the Couch to 5K program. Alternatively, you can do it yourself: After you’ve warmed up with some brisk walking, set a timer (you can use your phone’s timer/clock or a certain part of the song you’re listening to) or a distance marker (like a certain tree in the distance) and speed up to a sprint until you reach that time/distance. Then, slow back down to a walk to “cool down” for a bit before repeating the cycle until you (or your buddy) are tired. Now, depending on your dog’s size, age, health, and ability, you may not be able to sprint for longer than, say, 10 seconds at a time. Most dogs will gradually increase their stamina and be able to sprint for longer intervals, but don’t push your dog too far, and check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog’s health allows it.
4. Focus on Your Breath
While you’re on your walk, pay special attention to your breath. If you’re going at a speedier pace, this might mean timing your breaths to your running rhythm (like breathing in for 2 or 3 steps and then breathing out for 2 steps). If you’re taking it nice and slow, you might want to focus on deep belly breaths or even work on some meditative breathing. Even just reflecting on the breathing process and its benefits while you’re on your walk can have a positive effect.
5. Do Walking Lunges
If your dog’s spirit animal is more tortoise than hare, take advantage of his slower pace to incorporate some walking lunges into your trip. To do this, you basically turn each step into a squatting lunge (watch this video for directions). The result? Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes will get a workout, and even your hip flexors will enjoy a nice stretch.
6. Chase Your Dog
My dog, Hattie, loves to be chased. She oozes happiness when she’s sprinting through the dog park with me huffing and puffing at top speed behind her. If your dog has a similar affinity for a game of tag, consider yourself lucky and start the chase—you’ll get a nice cardiovascular workout after a few minutes of this game.
7. Bring Extra Water
It’s always a good idea to bring water along on your walks when it’s hot, but even when it’s not, consider bringing a large bottle along. It doubles as additional weight for your walk, and you can use it to do arm curls (one arm at a time, while the other hand holds the leash) as you’re walking. If you have them around your house, you could even bring a free weight (5-10 pounds works well).
8. Make Breaks for Bodyweight Exercises
You can stop along your route and do a few bodyweight exercises. When you see a picnic table or bench, stop and do tricep dips or table push-ups. Find a good, safe curb? Do some step-ups, kickbacks, toe taps, or calf raises. You can even pause and do ten jumping jacks a few times along your walk. Give your dog the “heel” command or tie her up nearby.
9. Visualize Your Goal
Whether you’re working on increasing strength or slimming down, visualize your body achieving those results. This isn’t just wishful thinking: science shows that visualizing your body getting stronger or losing weight actually works. A study at the Cleveland Clinic found that participants who mentally exercised their little finger for 12 weeks increased its strength by 35%, not much less than the 53% achieved by those who actually exercised their little finger. Try it yourself: while you’re on your walk, turn off the headphones and really focus your mind on what you want to achieve—your lungs breathing more efficiently or those glutes getting stronger, perhaps? (Psst! This extends beyond physical results, so go ahead and picture yourself landing that new job, too!)
One last note: Please keep in mind your furry friend’s ability and endurance levels. Increase duration and pace slowly, check in with your dog often to make sure there’s no excessive panting (especially when it’s hot), and stop for frequent water breaks.