Walking in place can get you breathing harder but is it the same as walking? Find out the differences in physical and mental effects between these activities.
First of all, regular walking will generally be more physically challenging. This leads to burning more calories, more muscle engagement, and getting the benefits of exercise to a slightly larger extent.
Additionally, outside walking is good for getting more sunlight and potentially more exposure to nature.
On the flip side, more sunlight can be suboptimal in the summer. Two other benefits of walking in place include not being dependent on the weather and not being dependent on your location.
Walking in place vs walking overview
Before learning about the differences in more detail, a quick overview of walking in place vs walking when it comes to the main points can be helpful.
|Detail||Walking In Place||Regular Walking|
|Calories Burned||Slightly More||Slightly Fewer|
|Muscles Worked||Mostly Hip Flexors||Hip Flexors, Glutes, Hamstrings,|
|Sunlight||Potentially If You Do It Outside||Likely Since It Is|
Often Done Outside
|Nature||Typically No Exposure||Potentially More Exposure|
Calories burned and weight loss effects
While the other health effects of aerobic exercise are important too, many people turn to things like regular walking and walking in place to lose weight and get all the benefits that come from having a healthy weight.
To lose weight, more specifically fat, you have to make it so your body requires more energy than is coming in from food. At this point, your body turns to energy stores like body fat to make up for the difference.
One way to make this happen is by moving more intensely than usual. This requires more energy measured in calories and could potentially get you to lose fat or speed up your results.
When it comes to burning calories and increasing your heart rate, regular walking is generally better than walking in place.
One study measured the energy expenditure of 23 adults of varying weights during different activities including walking in place and walking 3 mph (4.8 kmh) on a treadmill.
They measured that on average, walking in place burned 258 calories per hour whereas walking at 3 mph (4.8 kmh) on the treadmill burned around 304 calories per hour (1).
3 mph (4.8 kmh) is a very average walking speed so this should also represent the difference with walking outside at least somewhat.
These walking statistics are somewhat logical since actually pushing your body weight forward should require more energy than just lifting your legs up and down.
Additionally, this is just walking on a flat surface. Walking outside often involves at least some extent of uneven surfaces which will require more energy to navigate.
Another thing to note is that the actual number of calories you burn during walking in place and walking may be different due to personal differences in body composition, weight, walking intensity, hormone levels, etc.
Lastly, whether walking in place and walking will help you lose weight or not will also depend a lot on other lifestyle habits like nutrition. You can walk a lot and gain weight due to suboptimal habits in other areas.
Walking in place and regular walking are mainly cardiovascular exercises but you will work a few muscles to some extent.
You will very likely not see any actual muscle growth from these activities but engaging your muscles can still offer benefits.
That being said, walking in place and regular walking may work similar muscles but they will work these muscles to different extents and in different ratios.
Walking in place comes down to just raising and lowering your legs (and some additional arm movements). This will mainly work the hip flexors (between thighs and torso) since gravity helps the other muscles so much.
On the other side, regular walking actually requires your muscles to push you forward.
Besides your hip flexors, this activity also works your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves to some extent. At least more than walking in place.
Regular walking is not the most intense for your muscles either but it can make a difference in things like muscle endurance and health.
Especially when comparing walking with a weighted vest with the in-place alternative.
The actual movements and intensities are likely not the only things that play a role in your decision.
How much sunlight you get from walking in place vs regular walking is the first non-movement-related detail this article will talk about.
Even on cloudy days, you typically get more sunlight when you are outside than inside. This difference is important for a few reasons.
Most people know that spending time in the burning summer sun is considered to be bad for health.
So in the summer, walking in place inside or in the shade may be better. However, during the rest of the year, the sunlight exposure you get during regular outside walking is beneficial.
This next difference is not relevant to everyone. If you live in a part of a city with no trees or parks near you, you can likely skip this section.
If you do have the option to walk in nature, something useful to note is that walking in nature may offer extra benefits over just walking in place inside (4).
More specifically, one study measured more favorable changes in psychological states in people who walked on a forest path for 50 minutes compared to the group who walked along a busy road for 50 minutes (5).
Further research on the subject is welcome but for now, it looks like walking in nature is more effective for improving mental health compared to walking in place in a more man-made environment.
Dependence on weather
While activities like walking in the rain are possible, most people will prefer to skip a walking session when the weather outside is suboptimal.
One of the benefits of walking in place is that this is not something you need to take into account. You can simply do your workout in the comfort of your own home protected from the weather.
One thing to note is that this difference is not necessarily a case of one vs the other. You can walk outside on the days when the weather is favorable and walk in place inside when not.
Dependence on location
Besides being inside vs outside, another difference between walking in place and walking to keep in mind is that the location requirements are more strict for the second option.
Not everyone lives in a location where going for a nice walk outside is self-evident.
If you have to drive somewhere before being able to walk outside, walking in place may become a lot more attractive.
Even if this trip is only 5 minutes to and 5 minutes back from the location, that is an extra 10 minutes per workout.
By investing this time in walking in place, you may be able to compensate for the small reduction in effectiveness without the extra hassle of transporting yourself to a different location.
Alternatives to walking in place
You may be interested in the extra calorie burning, muscle engagement, and other health benefits from regular walking but like the in-place aspect of the other option.
In that case, there are a few alternatives to walking in place that could suit your workout routine better:
- High knees exercise
- Jumping rope
- Elliptical machine
- Mountain climbers
- Exercise bike
- Stair climbing
- Using a treadmill
One thing to note is that some of these alternatives can be harder on your body than walking in place. This can be good if your body can deal with it but is not always recommended.
When in doubt, you can start with the low-impact alternatives like the elliptical machine, the exercise bike, stair climbing, and using a treadmill and building up from there.
Can walking in place count as exercise?
Walking in place can count as light cardiovascular exercise since it still involves moving more and gets your heart rate up even though you are not changing location. At the same time, keep in mind that there are more effective forms of exercise.
Can you lose weight by walking in place?
It is possible to lose weight without exercise. In turn, that means it is also possible to lose weight when walking in place. Since this activity increases the amount of energy you use, it can benefit your weight loss results slightly.
Is walking in place the same as using a treadmill?
Walking in place is not the same as using a treadmill when it comes to physical effects. Using a treadmill will generally burn more calories and work your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles more.
Does walking in place count towards daily steps?
Walking in place does not have the exact same effect as the same number of steps with regular walking. Even so, walking in place is still healthier than doing nothing and counts towards your daily exercise goals. Additionally, one thing to note is that not all fitness trackers are perfect in counting the steps from walking in place accurately.