If someone told me a few years ago that I’d be trading in my daily HIIT sessions for what I would’ve called “boring” and “rest day-appropriate” low-intensity workouts, I would’ve belted out the chorus to Gayle’s ‘abcdefu’. But here I sit writing this, not even remembering the last time I did a single burpee and instead, focusing on walking and Pilates to benefit my overall health. Coincidentally, I’m not the only one taking part in this paradigm shift.
Every time I open up TikTok, my For You page is saturated with people praising the combination of walking (please refer to: ‘hot girl walks’) and Pilates as the miracle workout mix.
“When you start doing Pilates and hot girl walks and your body changes more in one month than it ever did with years of cardio,” TikTok user @izzyutterson captioned her video, which has amassed over three million views and 504k likes.
The slew of comments proves she’s not the only one who has experienced bodily changes from this exercise combination. One person commented on the video, saying, “I did this by accident in quarantine because I had no gym and the change it made, wow.”
Another wrote: “When I quit HIIT workouts and started Pilates, it legit changed my body and I didn’t even eat differently.”
What’s wild is that social media has done what it does best and made this the fitness combination du jour, despite it being anything but trendy — Pilates has roots that date back to the early 20th century and walking has been around since, ahhh, evolution(?).
So, what’s the deal? Should we file this away with every other TikTok health craze or does it actually hold some truth?
What’s the deal with the walking-Pilates combo?
“Walking is a great low-impact weight-bearing exercise method that can help relax the mind, improve cardiovascular health, improve joint and muscle pain, boost bone density and muscle tone, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help lose weight.”
Plus, it counts as cardio and hello, it’s free(!), which, in a time of peak inflation is a word we love to hear.
And Pilates? Once lugging a reputation as an expensive workout reserved for “rest days”, this form of movement has gone on to gain an abundance of positive attention thanks to a better understanding and appreciation of how the body functions. Thankfully, it’s also become more accessible and affordable, with plenty of online classes available, too.
Unlike running, dancing or jumping, Pilates movements are slow, smaller and controlled, to lengthen and tone muscles without putting any muscle groups under stress. It’s what Garcia-Pineda refers to as “motion is lotion”.
“Pilates is a wonderful low-impact movement modality that lengthens and strengthens the muscles in the body,” she said.
“It can help to improve core strength, posture and muscle tone, and helps to ‘wake up’ the smaller muscles that you might not even know you had, which means all movement becomes more efficient.”
Then, there are also mental health benefits…
Back to #hotgirlwalk talk — for those not aware of this TikTok phenomenon that currently has over 273 million views, it simply requires taking a long outdoor walk (four miles or 6.4 kilometres, to be exact) while listening to an inspirational podcast or motivational playlist. But that’s not all — on your walk, you’re only allowed to think about three specific things: what you’re grateful for, your goals and how hot you are (note: temperature, not appearance, related). It’s essentially a mental health hack coined by TikTok user Mia back in 2021, who goes by the handle @exacltyliketheothergirls.
“A lot of people are thinking that the hot girl walk is about weight loss, but it’s not. The biggest transformations are the ones that start internally,” Mia explained of the walk.
“A study published in Psychology Sports and Exercise found that low-intensity exercise could be the best at increasing people’s mental health.”
“Specifically, research into walking suggests that it has mental health benefits such as relieving stress and anxiety, clearing brain fog and boosting a person’s ability to quickly solve problems,” Sokarno added. “It’s also linked to better sleep, a reduced risk of depression and can lead to higher levels of happiness and self-esteem.”
While there is still limited research into the mental health benefits of Pilates, Sokarno pointed out that it delivers a range of feel-good hormones like endorphins and heavily focuses on deep breathing, which “can give a person a sense of relaxation, peace and balance for better emotional wellbeing and overall health.”
So, with the walking-Pilates combo, you get cardio in the form of walking, resistance training in the form of Pilates and a dose of mindfulness from both. It’s no wonder TikTok has capitalised on this win-win situation.
Is HIIT really all that bad?
It goes without saying that the recent interest in Pilates and low-intensity workouts has strong ties to the growing recognition of how stress affects the body; something that was made apparent during the height of the global pandemic. But HIIT hasn’t had its time in the spotlight for no reason. Countless studies have proven that pushing your body to the absolute max in short and consistent calorie-burning bursts can help relieve stress. And just like low-impact exercise, it helps with improving cardiovascular health, fat loss and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Yet, we can’t help but wonder: can the amalgamation of high-intensity exercise and a high-intensity life outside of the gym become overkill? Is it possible to reach a point where these benefits backfire?
How well your mind and body can handle that added stress really varies between each individual. There are, however, signs that may indicate high-intensity exercise is becoming too much for you, as Garcia-Pineda has noted.
Signs to pay attention to include: “If you’re gaining rather than maintaining or losing weight; if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed for no reason, if your body hurts in a bad way after sessions and if you keep injuring yourself during workouts”.
“We are all under constant stress in one way or another, so taking the time to move more purposefully and mindfully by incorporating low-intensity exercises can help create the balance we all need in our routines and our lives,” she added.
If you’re unsure where you currently stand, you can try Marie Kondo-ing your workout by asking yourself: is this sparking joy?
“If you’re not enjoying it and finding that you’re less motivated to go, that’s a sign that may be indicating you’re not benefitting from high-intensity workouts anymore,” explained Sokarno.
“If you’re dreading going to a high-intensity workout, see what happens if you instead do a low-intensity workout that day. Perhaps you need that time to relax and find some inner calm, rather than putting yourself in a position where you’re go-go-go.”
And please, please don’t underestimate the power of rest days.
Is the walking-Pilates combo the best workout?
Despite the walking-Pilates combo being TikTok vogue right now, that doesn’t mean it’s inherently better than other workout styles. Just like diet isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, the key to exercise – regardless of your goal – is to decipher what’s best for you at that point in time. Also, it’s best to err on the side of caution with any health and wellness hack on the video-sharing platform as critical information often gets lost in translation.
“The key is finding the kind of exercise you enjoy doing,” Sokarno stressed. “It doesn’t really matter so much the form of exercise you do, so long as you see positive results.”
Garcia-Pineda agreed, adding: “Make sure to drink plenty of water, let your body rest and have fun with whichever way you choose to move!” (Again, rest days are crucial!)
If, for you, sticking solely to walking and Pilates is going to help you heal from an injury, get you through a low mental health period or make you feel your absolute best, then don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. If going all out in sweat-drenching rage workouts makes your endorphins sing, go for it. If you see the best results from weight training, you make sure you lift like nobody’s business.
For me, it’s been about finding harmony between both high and low-intensity workouts, alternating between long walks (the hot girl walk is still a WIP) and Pilates during the week, and reserving running for the weekends. A year out and my regimen might look different but right now, in this very moment, it’s helping me feel my absolute best, TikTok trend or not.
Juna Xu is a freelance writer with a passion for all things health, wellness and beauty. Follow her on Instagram @juna.xu.