Does Walking Build Muscle? (Everything You Need to Know)

So, you’ve decided that you want to build some muscle, but the idea of pumping iron for hours in the gym doesn’t appeal to you. 

In that case, you’re probably looking for ways to tone your physique and build some muscle mass without relying on either free weights or weight machines. 

Walking is the most common form of exercise, so if your current fitness routine is mostly based around walking, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to build muscle through walking alone. 

In this article, we’ll be exploring whether walking builds muscle and what you need to know about the relationship between walking and muscle mass.

What Kind Of Exercise Is Walking? 

The first thing you should remember if you’re wondering whether walking can build muscle is that walking is a cardiovascular form of exercise (meaning it gets your heart pumping more than targeting your muscles). 

Cardiovascular forms of exercise like walking are great for burning calories, but they’re not usually recommended for building muscle. Keep reading to find out why. 

Does Walking Build Muscle? 

As we just mentioned, walking is not a type of exercise that fitness experts would typically recommend if your goal is to build muscle. 

First and foremost, walking only really utilizes the muscles in your legs, so even if walking were an effective muscle-building exercise, you would find that your legs would be disproportionately developed compared to your upper body. 

Additionally, the reality is that walking (in most cases) simply isn’t a sufficiently intense form of exercise to yield any noticeable results in terms of muscle growth. 

Can Walking Tone Your Muscles? 

It is also important to note that there is a difference between toning your muscles and building muscle. 

Toning existing muscles is still something that is best attempted with a regular strength training schedule (see also ‘Awesome Competitive Sports For Adults Over 40‘).

Although toning your muscles doesn’t require quite the same frequency as building muscle when it comes to lifting, most fitness experts will recommend 2 strength training sessions per week, each comprising between 2 and 3 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions. 

With that being said, actually building muscle typically requires you to strength train at least 3 times per week, doing between 4 and 6 sets of between 6 and 12 repetitions each session. 

So, while walking may not be the optimal form of exercise for either toning or building muscles, you stand a better chance of toning your leg muscles through an intense walking regimen than you do of building muscle.

The Benefits Of Walking For Muscle Development

The Benefits Of Walking For Muscle Development

A leisurely stroll along the beach, even on a regular basis, is highly unlikely to produce any real results in terms of either muscle growth or toning. 

However, if you really enjoy walking, hate lifting heavy, and your goal isn’t to build a significant amount of muscle, you may be able to adjust your walking routine to produce minor toning results in your legs. 

One of the best ways to lightly tone up the muscles in your legs through walking is to incorporate steps or at least an incline into your walking.

Using a machine like the StairMaster in the gym will help to tone your calves and your glutes if you use it often enough, but climbing actual flights of stairs works well, too. 

A treadmill with incline adjustment settings can also help you to tone your legs, although most people who have used an incline treadmill to build leg muscle will tell you that you’re likely to plateau relatively quickly as your muscles adjust. 

If you prefer walking outdoors to working out on a treadmill or StairMaster, try to find some hikes near you that involve steep hills and make sure you’re walking at least 3 times per week. 

We mentioned earlier that walking is a cardiovascular exercise, and believe it or not, cardio can be beneficial to your muscle building or toning goals.

While cardio may not help you to build muscle, it does burn calories and, therefore, fat. 

As you lose fat from your body, including your legs, you will be able to see your muscle definition more clearly, so if your goal is a lean and toned physique, walking can still play a role in your workout routine.

Again, though, if you really want to noticeably build muscle, walking will be most effective when paired with a weekly strength training routine. 

Other Health Benefits Of Walking

So, we’ve established that walking is not an effective form of exercise for significant muscle growth, although an intensive walking regimen involving steps and inclines can help you to gently tone your leg muscles while burning fat to make your muscle tone more visible. 

However, just because walking isn’t the optimal exercise for muscle growth doesn’t mean you should stop doing it! There are plenty of health benefits associated with walking, including:

  • As a cardiovascular exercise, walking helps to burn calories and reduce body fat. This can improve your cardiovascular health, minimizing your risk of heart disease while lowering blood pressure, which decreases your risk of having a stroke
  • Walking has been associated with a lower risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer
  • Even though walking may not build muscle, it can definitely improve your muscle endurance, so while your muscles might not look bigger, they will certainly feel stronger. 
  • Doing cardiovascular exercise, including walking, has been shown to boost energy levels, so if you find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, a walk might help to stop you from napping the day away. 
  • If you find that your balance and coordination isn’t where you’d like it to be, walking can be a surprisingly simple fix. Walking forces you to utilize your spatial awareness while building some strength in your lower body, so you’ll be less unstable on your feet if you walk regularly. 
  • Walking has also been proven to be beneficial to your mental health as well as your physical health. Studies have shown that participants who walk regularly tend not to suffer from low mood as much as participants who do not get this type of exercise on a regular basis. Memory and sleep quality have also been shown to improve with consistent walking, whereas stress levels tend to lower in response to a regular walking regimen. 
  • Finally, research indicates that walking and other types of cardiovascular exercise are effective at strengthening the immune system. If you’ve noticed that you’re catching every cold going around, try getting some more gentle exercise like walking into your daily routine and see if it makes a difference. 

Final Thoughts 

The answer to the question ‘does walking build muscle?’ is ‘not really’.

While walking at an incline or up stairs regularly can help to tone your muscles while burning fat to make your strength training progress more noticeable, it will not help you to build muscle by itself. 

However, walking has many health and fitness benefits and can help to remove some of the fat covering your muscles, so walking regularly alongside a 3-times-weekly strength training regimen can help you to get the results you’re looking for in terms of muscle definition.