There are great health benefits associated with walking your dog every day, but if you're looking for ways to improve your fitness levels, build some lean muscle, or get in shape for your next marathon, then you'll be pleased to know that it's easy to turn those daily walks into heavy-hitting training sessions. The key is to include some additional moves along the way, improving your strength and stamina while your dog enjoys his outdoor time.
"I use every dog walks as a chance to get more activity in my day and not sit all of the time," says Laura Thomas, CPT-ACE, CPPC, of Thomas Fitness Consulting. A sedentary lifestyle of sitting all day tightens and shortens the hip flexors, so getting in extra movement helps to reduce and prevent that. "Steady dog walking can be a great active 'rest' activity separate from a strength session or on your rest days from other regular exercise classes." Also, working out with your dog adds some variety to your fitness routine. To help inspire your own pet-friendly workout routine, Thomas shared some of the moves she does when she walks her dog.
Walking is already a great cardio activity, but you can up the ante by jogging or running with your dog. Just make sure your dog is on a leash, as required by law in most places. Thomas suggests improving the strength of your grip by holding a weight in one or both hands then walking back and forth. You can also try weighted step-ups in which you hold weights in your hands, elevate one foot on a step, and bring the other foot up to meet the stationary one. Do these exercises before your dog walk to ensure that you have a better grip on the leash during jogs or runs with your dog. "The benefits here are aerobic activity and elevating your heart rate," Thomas says. "Grip strength is also important as we age for carrying everyday things like groceries or heavy pots."
Adding this move to your walks will increase glute and knee strength. To do this, Thomas says to stand in front of your dog with your feet wider than hip-width apart and your toes slightly turned out. "Hold [your dog's] favorite treat up with your right hand—and make sure he sees it!" she explains. "Then push your hips back to squat down and pass the treat under your left leg from your right hand to your left hand. Let your dog try to find it." Next, you'll quickly stand back up and hold the treat up with your left hand. This counts as one repetition. Thomas suggests doing 10 reps total and, of course, rewarding your pup with the coveted treat.
Lunges are great for building strength in your glute, hip, and knee muscles. Start by standing in front of your dog with your feet together. Hold a toy in your right hand. "Step your left foot behind you and lower into a wide lunge, allowing your arm to touch the [ground] so your pup can play with the toy for one count," says Thomas. "Press back up to your start position. That's one rep." You'll want to do 10 reps with your left leg and 10 with your right leg.
You'll probably want to do planks on even ground, away from foot traffic. Once you've found a good place to do them on your walk route, you can get down into the full plank position with your feet wide apart. "Pick up your pup's toy (or a ball) with your left hand and bend your arm across your right so that the dog chases after it. Once your pup is in front of the toy, extend your arm to the left side of your body so your pup has to go after it again." Have a dog that likes to play fetch? Go ahead and gently throw the ball and let him bring it back to you. Repeat this five times on your left arm then switch to your right as the toy-holding arm. This move increases your core and shoulder strength.
Why go for a walk when you can go canoeing? Thomas has taken her dog along for a canoe ride. The canoeing movements will work your arms, back and core muscles, and your dog will love the great outdoors. The side-to-side strokes and water resistance make all the difference in this workout. You'll also have the benefit of bonding with your dog in a unique natural setting over the water.
Fetch or Frisbee
Dogs enjoy a good game of fetch, but you can incorporate a few moves to turn it into a workout for yourself, too. "With fetch or frisbee, you can throw the ball and then shuffle to the right or left," Thomas says. She likes to add a little run into the side-to-side shuffle for maximum effectiveness. Do this move while your dog gets the ball or frisbee. "Humans do not get a ton of lateral movement in everyday life, and it's good to work in all planes when exercising," she adds.