The Effect Of 10,000 Steps On Strength Training

January 27th 2020

Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere without overhearing a conversation about step counts, or without seeing someone who is wearing a fitness tracker. 

Prioritizing taking 10,000 steps per day has become cited in common conversation as often as drinking 8 cups of water every day and striving to sleep 8 hours every night. 

We went from a time when almost no one knew how many steps they were taking in a day, to a time when a large portion of the American population is hyper-aware of and has on the forefront of their minds, exactly how many more steps they need to take in a day to reach 10,000. 

While it’s well known that increasing physical activity can improve your overall health, can walking translate to benefits outside of lowering your blood pressure and helping to stabilize your blood sugar? Can taking 10,000 steps per day improve your strength gains? 

Americans have become increasingly more sedentary over the years, which has had a detrimental effect on both our overall physical and mental health. 

Recent research suggests that only 21 percent of adults are meeting the suggested physical activity guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. And, studies have now consistently indicated that leading a sedentary lifestyle (one involving little to no physical activity) can contribute to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, along with contributing to an increased risk for developing a mental health disorder, such as depression. 

Even adding a single walk per day can have an incredible impact on your health. 

Why 10,000 steps?

How did we come to the conclusion that 10,000 was the magic number of steps to strive for every day? Interestingly, the 10,000 steps recommendation is not actually based on scientific research or experiment. It stems from a marketing strategy

The maker of a Japanese pedometer (the 10,000 Step Meter) capitalized on naming it after an auspicious number in Japenese culture and initially launched it around the time of the 1965 Olympic games. 

As far as we currently know, recommending taking 10,000 steps, which is equivalent to nearly 5 miles, has not been validated by research.

However, 10,000 steps does roughly equate to the 30 minutes of physical activity per day that is recommended by the Surgeon General, and the 150 minutes of physical activity per week, (which breaks down to roughly 10,000 steps per day) that health authorities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association suggest. So, the recommendation is not entirely without merit. 

On average, Americans tend to walk anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 steps per day doing everyday activities, with age, sex, and occupation all playing a role. (Men take, on average, more steps than women.) 

So, taking 10,000 steps may not actually be much more than the number of steps you are already taking. And, according to the American Council on Exercise, tracking your daily steps actually increases your step average by 2,500 more steps per day than those who do not. 

So, tracking your steps has actually been shown to motivate more movement. 

The effect walking has on your body and your strength

You may not automatically assume so, but walking actually has profoundly positive effects on your body, and the more steps you take in a day, the better. 

Fortunately, walking is an exercise that most people can do, regardless of their fitness level. A few of the effects that you may experience from increasing your steps that would directly affect your strength training are: improved sleep, faster recovery, reduced fatigue and stress, and increased balance and endurance. 

The more you move your body and expend energy, the easier it is for you to fall asleep, stay asleep and get deeper sleep. 

Resting your body is equally as important as the workouts you are performing, as engaging in physical activities like strength training and walking cause tiny tears in your muscles. Resting allows these tears to be repaired, and is what rebuilds and creates larger, stronger muscles. 

If you don’t get quality sleep, you may actually have to lower the intensity of your workouts or you may overtrain. The faster you recover, the faster you can workout again. 

So, the easier, and deeper you are able to sleep, the better it is for you and your strength training. Also, the amount of sleep you are getting directly correlates to your stress level and mood.

The more sleep you get, the better you are able to handle stress, and the better the mood you will be in, which will be directly reflected in your workouts. Along the same lines, the more you workout, the better your mood will be, as exercising releases endorphins and is associated with feelings of euphoria. 

Walking every day also helps strengthen your lungs, increases the amount of oxygenated blood that is being sent to your muscles, and improves circulation. 

The more you move, the easier this happens, and the harder you will be able to work out. 

It also increases your flexibility and bone strength, which improves their density, your posture, and your balance, along with reducing your risk for injury and reducing the amount of aches and pains you feel during the day. 

The more you move, the better your body will feel, the more energy you will have, and the harder you will be able to train. 

Choosing to lead a more active lifestyle can also be beneficial to your waistline. 

Studies have shown that the body of someone who lives a sedentary lifestyle does not process the calories they consume the same way as the body of someone who leads a more active lifestyle. 

The calories consumed by a more active person are more likely to fuel their body’s key systems, whereas the calories consumed by a non-active person are more likely to be stored. (In the muscles, liver, or as fat.) The more fit you are, the harder and easier you are able to work out. 

So, I hope you are getting the full picture of these explanations. Walking is an excellent way to increase activity in your life, especially if you have a desk job. It will also prime your body to be more efficient at turning your muscles on and off as well if you are very conditioned.

Does cardio burn muscle?

A common concern among strength athletes is that cardio will burn muscle.

While this will happen in cases of extreme overtraining, or after exercising at high intensity for more than 45 minutes, maintaining balance between your diet and exercising will prevent muscle loss. 

Cardio only burns muscle within a specific set of circumstances.

If your goal is to gain muscle and strength, get on a beginner general strength training program like Starting Strength or 5/3/1, a program I am currently running. Drink lots of milk and get plenty of sleep. In about 6 months of dedicated training, you WILL see drastic changes in your strength, physique, and power when doing these programs correctly.

Heck, doing ANY program diligently for 6 months will grant you substantial progress.

And as far as doing cardio is concerned, this usually refers to GPP, otherwise known as general physical preparedness. Cardio, when done with the intention of supplementing your strength training routine, can help increase your work capacity, stamina, injury resilience, and joint health.

There are so many smaller factors that go into strength training and doing cardio, whether low intensity or high intensity, can offer a dramatic difference in the way you evolve as an athlete. This can make the difference between a good athlete and a great one.

So, would any strength athlete need to take 10,000 steps a day to help with their routine? The answer will always be… maybe.

For me? I have done it for brief periods of time and have stopped as well. Currently, I do more short interval, high intensity “cardio” by implementing more Strongman events like sandbag carries and farmer’s walks.

The only way you can know if it works for you is to test it for at least a few weeks. I would recommend at least 6 weeks and see how you respond to it. Even if you are getting poor results initially, stick through the failure until the 6 week mark.

Then, reflect and improve yourself. After all, isn’t that what strength training is?

Conquering and reconquering your old limitations?

Final thoughts 

Since there are so many potential benefits to increasing the amount of steps you take in a day, it is obvious why so many people have taken to tracking them, and inquiring whether or not their family and friends have reached their daily step goals. 

Adding extra steps to your day is beneficial both physically and psychologically for most people, and provides benefits that facilitate strength gains. 

Increased energy, improved sleep, and faster recovery are only three of the incredible benefits of adding more steps to your daily routine. 

While it is not required to reach 10,000 steps every day to notice the effects, studies have shown that the more steps you take in a day, the better you will feel and that it's beneficial to stray away from maintaining a sedentary lifestyle. 

However, it is always important to bear in mind that everyone’s body is different and may respond differently to changes in physical activity.

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