The Simplest Fitness Hack for Lifters
The evidence is in. You don't need to walk 10,000 steps a day to increase your lifespan or shrink your waistline. But you do need to get at least 7,000 steps for health and body composition. About 7,000 steps can reduce your risk of death by 50 to 70 percent. That might just be the world's simplest fitness hack!
However, most people struggle to get that many steps. You probably realized this the first time you bothered tracking them. That's why I use a very simple hack to get a huge chunk of my mandatory steps. It's so simple I barely realize I'm doing it.
Here it is: walk between sets. You'll get in about half of your required steps during your normal workout.
This simple hack, which doesn't require any added time, will significantly impact your health and body composition without negatively affecting muscle growth and strength gains. Here's how to do it and why it works.
Let's be clear: we're talking about walking between sets, not doing cardio between sets. The intensity should be the same as if you're taking a casual walk outside. You can do it by walking around the gym or by walking on a treadmill (my preference for keeping proper pace).
- After each set of every exercise, walk for two minutes.
- Wait 30-60 seconds before starting your next set. That gives you a rest period of around three minutes.
A three-minute rest period is ideal for muscle growth. It minimizes central fatigue, helps you maintain a strong excitatory neural drive to the muscle, and helps you recruit the growth-prone high-threshold motor units.
Most people get 90 to 110 steps per minute at regular walking speed. This means each 2-minute bout will give you 180 to 220 steps. Let's keep it simple and say 200.
If your workout has a total of 18 to 20 sets – a typical volume for a workout that includes 3-4 sets of 5-6 exercises) – we're talking about around 3,400 to 3,800 steps during your lifting session. That's roughly half of your daily need, and we're not even counting warm-up sets.
Want to knock out all 7,000 steps? Start your workout with a 10-minute warm-up walk and finish with a 10-minute walking cooldown. That's an extra 4,000 steps, taking you all the way to the magic 7,000!
From a health perspective, there's strong evidence for walking more and shooting for at least 7,000 steps. Now, at the moment, being healthy and living a long life might be a distant goal behind being jacked and lifting big weights. But you'll appreciate being healthier while still having an awesome body as you get older.
Do you have to use the intra-workout steps strategy to reach 7,000 steps per day? No. Is it more effective to accumulate a large portion of your steps during the workout than at other times in your day? No, but it's not less effective either. And for people with busy lives, it makes it a lot easier.
If you're not at the age yet where you're thinking about longevity, then do it for the fat loss. The number of calories you "burn" depends on your body weight – the heavier you are, the more energy is required to move your body. But this table can give you a good approximation:
|Body Weight||125 Lb.||150 Lb.||200 Lb.||250 Lb.||300 Lb.|
|3,000 steps||90 cals||120 cals||150 cals||190 cals||225 cals|
|5,000 steps||150 cals||200 cals||250 cals||310 cals||370 cals|
|7,000 steps||200 cals||280 cals||350 cals||435 cals||520 cals|
|10,000 steps||280 cals||395 cals||495 cals||625 cals||745 cals|
These numbers are subject to individual variation, depending on speed and metabolic efficiency.
Assuming the average male T Nation reader is between 180 and 220 pounds, our daily 7,000 steps would increase caloric expenditure by 300 to 400 calories. The 3,500 to 4,000 steps you're getting by walking during your rest periods would amount to an extra 200 to 240 calories. Not huge, but significant. And it adds up.
And consider this: Taking a bodybuilding drug like clenbuterol for fat loss increases resting energy expenditure by around 21% (2). It's a strong pharmaceutical agent with many potentially severe side effects and zero health-promoting effects. Yet, for a 180-pound man, that's only 420 calories per day. That's equivalent to what you'd get from walking 10,000 steps per day.
Some folks like to say that walking is overrated for fat loss. Usually, they claim that building more muscle is the best way to burn more calories. When you gain muscle, the body increases metabolic rate because muscles use a lot of energy, even at rest.
Not untrue, but do you know how MUCH muscle gain increases metabolic rate? Some claim that one pound of added muscle increases metabolic rate by 50 calories per day. This is false.
In fact, the increase in metabolic rate or daily energy expenditure from gaining one pound of muscle is between 4 and 7 calories per day (1). If you gain 10 pounds of muscle mass, your daily energy expenditure will increase by only 40-70 calories! That's less than walking even a measly 3,000 steps per day.
Of course, you still want to gain muscle, but having more muscle doesn't mean you shouldn't be shooting for 7,000 daily steps. At some point, it's just an excuse to be lazy... or to sit down between sets to play with your phone.
There's only one way to screw this up: turning the walking rest periods into cardio rest periods. Sure, you'll expend more calories with steep incline walks or jogging, but this will also greatly decrease the efficacy of your lifting, even if you don't realize it.
It all comes down to central fatigue. This affects the strength of the excitatory drive sent to your muscles by your nervous system. The greater the central fatigue, the weaker the activation signal. You may not even feel "fatigued," but central fatigue occurs.
This is important. A weaker signal can't recruit the high-threshold motor units (fast-twitch fibers). With too much central fatigue, even explosive reps, heavy reps, or reps to failure won't lead to complete high threshold recruitment.
Remember, the fast-twitch fibers attached to the high-threshold motor units are the only ones with significant growth potential. If you can't recruit them (or a large number of them), you can't gain maximum muscle mass. Period.
While any type of training will create a certain level of central fatigue, duration is a lot more impactful than intensity. In fact, cardiovascular training increases central fatigue a lot more and for longer than strength training!
By turning the easy walks during your rest periods into bouts of cardio/conditioning, you'll reduce the activation of the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers, making your workout less effective at stimulating growth.
If you want to add true conditioning work to your sessions, do it after your hypertrophy or strength work.
- Elia M. Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. Kinney JM, Tucker HN, eds. Energy Metabolism. New York, NY: Raven Press, 1992:61–80.
- Jessen S et al. Beta2-adrenergic agonist clenbuterol increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and induces mTOR phosphorylation in skeletal muscle of young healthy men. Drug Test Anal. 2020 May;12(5):610-618. PubMed.