Shape up your body for spring with this eight-week fitness plan

Whether you want to drop a dress size or finish your first 10K, this fitness plan will get you there in no time.

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Woman walking or running in the spring

If you’re looking for a great way to get fit this spring, start with our no-equipment-needed, fresh-air-friendly walking plan. Designed for Chatelaine by Sarah Zahab, a kinesiologist, walking-workshop leader and race walker in Ottawa, it’s a challenging, well-rounded routine designed to work you up to walking a 10-km race.

But it’s not all about crossing the finish line: This beginners’ plan will help you build your endurance, improve your muscle tone and perfect your walking form, all in eight weeks. “Each day you train, you progress by 10 percent from the week before,” says Sarah. “Your posture will improve, and there’s a good chance you’ll lose weight as well.”

The program
Our eight-week fitness plan includes lots of variety, which keeps you interested and is more physically challenging. No matter the workout, don’t forget to warm up and cool down for five minutes with an easy walk.

A) Interval training
“These really help increase your cardiovascular fitness and burn calories,” Zahab says. Walk as fast as you can for 30 to 60 seconds. Recover by power walking for two minutes (see below for how), and repeat for as long as indicated. Make sure you have good form, pushing off from your toes and using your arms to create speed by driving your elbows back. Take five minutes to cool down.

B) Strength training
This will boost your metabolism, tone your body, build bone density and improve your posture. But don’t worry — you don’t need to hit the weight room. Just perform these five key strength-building exercises: squats, push-ups, bridges, rows and planks (in any order). Do two sets of 12 repetitions each.

C) Power walking
Increase your pace and torch calories by power walking. Take short, quick steps and push off from your toes. Bend your arms to 90 degrees and drive your elbows back with every step. Aim for an intensity of six to eight out of 10. “When walking, you shouldn’t be able to tell your life story, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air either,” Zahab says. Walk a bit faster every week, working up to between 7.5 and 9 minutes per kilometre.

D) Hill training
Warm up, then power walk up a hill for one to three minutes (on a treadmill, set the incline to six to start, and increase it each week). Recover by walking down the hill, then repeat.

E) Cross-training
Think of this as your wild-card day: Pick a fun activity and consider it freestyle exercise. Rake leaves, play with the kids, go for a bike ride, swim, jump on an elliptical machine or dance. The idea is to promote a varied program and avoid overdoing it, Zahab says. “You’re still getting the benefits of exercise, so when you power walk, you still feel refreshed and trained.”

Don’t forget to stretch!
Try to end each walking session by stretching your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. It’s especially important for walkers to stretch their shins to avoid shin splints.

Our fave: Lunge and turn the top of your back foot down to the floor, with your back straight and your front knee bent. Stretch by pushing the top of your back foot toward the floor to lengthen the front of the back leg. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and breathe.

8 Week Fitness Plan

Amp it up! Feeling ambitious? Turn this program into a half-marathon training plan by increasing the distance by 10 percent each week.

Follow the jump to read more about the amazing health benefits of walking

*Article originally published March 2011.