Walking is a great form of exercise, but will it actually build muscle?

Walking is widely known as an excellent aerobic exercise with cardiovascular benefits, but its advantages extend beyond just improving heart health. In addition to its positive impact on arthritis, sleep quality, stress reduction, immune system, and glucose control, walking has also been linked to lowering the risk of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and related dementias. Moreover, walking can contribute to toning and muscle growth, although it differs from intense weight training that promotes substantial muscle mass.

How does walking build muscle?

While walking doesn’t lead to significant muscle mass gains, it promotes a leaner muscle tone, particularly in the lower body muscle groups. When muscles are stressed through exercise, microtears occur, prompting the body to repair and strengthen the affected areas. Although walking doesn’t cause muscle breakdown like weight training, it can stimulate toning and growth in specific muscle groups, especially for individuals who don’t engage in frequent exercise, engage in longer walking sessions, or implement challenging walking practices targeting specific muscles.

Apart from muscle development, walking helps maintain existing muscle mass, which becomes increasingly important with age to counteract sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle. Regular exercise, including walking, can mitigate the effects of muscle loss, according to Michael Fredericson, MD, from Stanford University’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation division.

Which muscle groups are engaged during walking?

Walking primarily engages the lower body muscles, including quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Additionally, it activates core abdominals and back muscles, as confirmed by Austin “Ozzie” Gontang, PhD, director of the San Diego Marathon Clinic.

The extent of muscle growth during walking depends on factors such as gender, age, body mass, existing muscle strength, and walking conditions, such as inclines. Uphill walking intensifies the workout and increases muscle stress, which is beneficial for muscle development, explains Gontang.

How often should you walk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic activities like brisk walking for 150 minutes per week is recommended. This translates to approximately 30 minutes of walking on each weekday.

To enhance your walking workout, you can consider carrying weights, incorporating interval training, or increasing your walking speed. Gontang suggests starting with walking and gradually adding a backpack with some weight to intensify the workout and make it more challenging.

Combining walking with other forms of exercise can also be beneficial. In a study involving older adults, those who participated in a 10-week exercise program combining walking with resistance training showed greater improvement in muscle mass in thigh muscles compared to those who solely engaged in walking.

Benefits of Walking: Improving Health, Building Muscle, and Enhancing Well-being

Walking is a popular and accessible form of exercise that offers numerous health benefits. While it may not directly lead to significant muscle mass gains like weight training, walking contributes to muscle toning and growth, particularly in the lower body muscle groups. In this article, we will explore the benefits of walking, how it builds muscles, the muscle groups engaged during walking, frequency recommendations, pro tips, practical examples, and precautions to take while walking.

Benefits of Walking:

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Walking strengthens the heart and improves blood circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Weight management: Walking helps burn calories, aiding in weight loss and weight management.
  • Enhanced mood and mental well-being: Walking releases endorphins, reducing stress, anxiety, and improving overall mood.
  • Increased bone density: Weight-bearing exercise like walking helps strengthen bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Improved sleep quality: Regular walking can improve sleep patterns and promote better sleep.

How Does Walking Build Muscles?

  • Muscle toning and definition: Walking engages various muscle groups, leading to improved muscle tone and definition.
  • Microtears and repair: When muscles are stressed during walking, microtears occur. The body repairs and strengthens these muscles, contributing to muscle growth and toning.
  • Maintaining existing muscle mass: Walking helps preserve existing muscle mass, counteracting age-related muscle loss.

Muscle Groups Engaged During Walking:

  • Lower body muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes are primarily engaged during walking.
  • Core muscles: Abdominals and back muscles are activated to maintain balance and stability.

How Often Should You Walk?

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic activity: The CDC recommends engaging in brisk walking or other moderate-intensity aerobic activities for at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Frequency: Aim for approximately 30 minutes of walking on most weekdays.
  • Variation and progression: Gradually increase the duration or intensity of your walks to continue challenging your muscles and improving fitness.

Pro Tips:

  • Maintain proper posture while walking: Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed, and engage your core muscles.
  • Warm-up and cool-down: Prior to walking, perform dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles. Afterward, incorporate static stretches to cool down and prevent muscle soreness.
  • Wear proper footwear: Invest in supportive and comfortable shoes that provide adequate cushioning and protect your feet.

Practical Examples:

  • Incorporate walking into your daily routine: Walk to work or school, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or schedule regular walks during your lunch break.
  • Explore nature trails or parks: Walking in natural environments can provide a refreshing and enjoyable experience.
  • Join walking groups or clubs: Engaging in group walks can offer social interaction and motivation.


  • Start slowly: If you’re new to walking or exercise, start with shorter distances and gradually increase the duration and intensity.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink water before, during, and after your walks, especially in hot weather.
  • Listen to your body: If you experience pain or discomfort during walking, modify your routine or consult a healthcare professional.


Walking is a versatile and accessible form of exercise that offers numerous health benefits, including muscle toning and growth. While it may not result in significant muscle mass gains, walking stimulates lean muscle tone, particularly in the lower body muscle groups. By incorporating regular walking sessions into your routine, following proper techniques, and gradually progressing your workouts, you can enjoy the physical and overall well-being benefits it provides. Remember to listen to your body, take precautions, and consult with a healthcare professional if needed. Lace up your shoes and embark on a journey to a healthier, stronger you through the power of walking.

Walking is a versatile and accessible exercise that offers numerous health benefits, including muscle toning and growth. By incorporating walking into your routine and exploring variations to increase intensity, you can enjoy the physical and overall well-being benefits it provides.

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