Using walking pads while working: Are these really effective in helping you lose weight?
How is a walking pad different from a treadmill? And is it better to simply take more breaks by walking away from your desk rather than walking at it? Let the experts explain more about this fitness trend we've seen on TikTok.
Any gadget that lets you kill two birds – or a whole flock – with one stone is a big win in any time-starved Singaporean’s book. Like the smartphone or tablet that you’re using to read this article right now.
Or if you’re trying to break out of the couch potato mode without interrupting your work-from-home (or back-to-office) flow, a walking pad that can be used under the desk sounds like a win-win.
It has to be, right? You’re clocking steps towards your daily target of 10,000. Your legs are working as hard as your fingers are typing out emails and reports. You’re not at the mercy of unpredictable weather. And for crying out loud, you’re finally not in a sedentary position.
TikTok users would be familiar with this device when the pandemic lockdown inspired many to seek out home workout equipment.
But if the combination of “walking” and “pad” has already lost you, here’s a quick catch-up: A walking pad is smaller and cheaper than a home treadmill, and is foldable and compact enough to slide under a desk, said See Siao Xu, a senior physiotherapist with Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Department of Physiotherapy. Some models even have removable handles and offer higher speeds for jogging, she said.
And, of course, you'll need to pair it with a standing desk.
CAN YOU REALLY GET A WORKOUT OUT OF WALKING PADS?
If you’re aiming to simply increase your daily physical activity beyond walking to the bathroom or the nearby coffeeshop, a walking pad could help.
“Walking is a form of low-impact exercise that is suitable for most healthy adults and using the walking pad helps to increase their daily physical activity,” said Adjunct Professor Roger Tian, a senior consultant with Changi General Hospital’s Department of Sport & Exercise Medicine.
Shane Siow, a senior physiotherapist with Core Concepts, noted that a walking pad can be suitable for those who want to keep active but have difficulties heading outside “due to medical or physiological conditions”. “If your goal is to achieve a slow burn – that is, exercising at a low to moderate heart rate – using a walking pad as a workout modality may be quite convenient,” he said.
See added that the exercise benefits and intensity from using a walking pad and brisk walking in the park can be similar. “However, brisk walking outdoors would be a better option if you prefer fresh air and a change of scenery,” she said.
But for those looking for a more intense workout, Siow is convinced that they are less likely to use the walking pad. “Squeezing in a 20-minute circuit or HIIT (high-intensity, high impact) workout may serve their purpose more,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think walking pads will be very popular in Singapore.”
What about weight loss? “While the consistent use of a walking pad may increase one’s caloric expenditure modestly, it may not be sufficient for meaningful weight loss,” said Adj Prof Tian. And it also doesn’t help if you’re munching on snacks or sipping bubble tea while walking. “Physical activity has to be combined with appropriate dietary management for the weight loss to be significant,” he said.
See explained: “To lose weight, the number of calories burnt should be more than the calorie intake. A daily deficit of 500 calories to 1,000 calories will help you lose 0.5kg to 1kg weekly”.
WHAT SIZE TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A WALKING PAD?
Different brands and models of walking pads offer different dimensions. “Depending on your workout plan, a minimum 20-inch (about 50cm) belt width is recommended for walkers,” said See Siao Xu, a senior physiotherapist from Department of Physiotherapy, Tan Tock Seng Hospital. As for the belt length, look for 50 inches.
Walking 10,000 steps can burn approximately 300 calories to 500 calories but it only hits the lower end of the daily deficit range you need to lose weight. And that is why you need to adjust your calorie intake as well.
One thing’s for certain when using a walking pad: You’ll be in motion more than in a chair. “Moving regularly instead of maintaining prolonged static postures during work, such as sitting, is a good idea,” said See.
IT’S JUST WALKING. WHAT HARM CAN COME OF IT?
Going from sitting at your desk all day long to suddenly clocking 10,000 steps a day can cause overloading injuries, said See. “You may want to be mindful of taking breaks between your walks or increase the number of your steps progressively.”
Even for active individuals, said Siow, different muscle groups may be utilised when walking in shoes versus walking barefoot on the walking pad, which may lead to injuries. “Other potential trauma-related injuries such as ankle sprains may also happen if one is unfamiliar with the equipment or when one is distracted cognitively,” he said.
Speaking of footwear, can you forgo it when using the walking pad? Siow is of the opinion that “it wouldn't make any difference with or without shoes, unless you have underlying contraindications such as plantar fasciitis”. However, both Adj Prof Tian and See recommend proper shoes for protection and impact absorption. “Shoes also provide protection from friction and prevent the development of blisters,” said See.
Given the walking pad’s smaller walking surface and less stable nature compared to a treadmill, there could also be an increased risk of falls or injuries, said Adj Prof Tian.
HOW DO WE GET STARTED AND PROGRESS?
For starters, keep your gait as natural as possible to avoid any compensatory patterns, said Siow. “To avoid the risk of injuries, the walking speed, distance and incline should not be increased all at once,” said Adj Prof Tian.
Here are other tips concerning the duration, speed, intensity and incline settings:
Speed: The average outdoor walking speed of a healthy person ranges from 3.5km/h to 5.5km/h, said Adj Prof Tian. “Users should start at the lower end of this range when using a walking pad.”
When you’re ready to walk faster, increase the speed up to 6.5km/h to achieve brisk walking, said See.
Duration of walk: “The duration of exercise recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine is a minimum of 30 minutes for five times per week,” said See.
Generally, it is recommended to increase the duration of exercise before increasing the speed or inclination, she said. For example, “increase your walking duration by 10 per cent weekly if you are tolerating well with the workout”.
Incline settings: For beginners, start at zero inclination until you reach the target speed, said See. “Once you are comfortable with the speed, gradually increase the inclination by 1 per cent each minute.
“Most beginners can tolerate 1 per cent to 3 per cent of inclination. Once you can tolerate a low level of inclination with a good workout, you may gradually increase the inclination by 1 per cent each time,” she said.
But note that inclines of higher than 4 per cent may increase the risk of knee pain, said Adj Prof Tian.
Intensity: Aim for a moderate-intensity workout, which can be monitored by being able to talk but not sing during the workout, said See.
“The heart rate should be targeted between 64 per cent to 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR).” You can calculate your MHR by subtracting your age from 220 or use a smartwatch that is enabled to monitor heart rate, she said.
For a vigorous intensity workout, aim for between 76 per cent and 95 per cent of your maximum heart rate, she said.