Walking can be a runner’s best friend – trust me!

Ask any runner about “walking” and you’ll be told it’s either a cardinal sin or the tool of the devil. But walking in some of your training sessions can be an awesome tool for runners.

Here are just some of the benefits:

  • The variation in intensity between running and walking during a session can improve heart rate recovery, muscle efficiency and running economy
  • Run:walk sessions offer a combination of intervals and fartlek session gains
  • Reduce your injury risk with reduced accumulated muscle fatigue and better maintenance of technique throughout the run
  • Safely extend the distance and duration of your long run without compromising the benefits
  • Moves lower limb joints through a greater range of motion (compared to running) to help maintain and improve your mobility
  • Improves technique efficiency of your “performance walking” for mountain or ultra runners (where walking is inevitable)

You can add walking to your sessions and reap the benefits – the only negative is being spotted by fellow runners when you’re on a walk break…

The most effective way to add walking to your running

So you’re probably wondering how walking might work in your regular sessions. Here are some of your options:

  1. Long run – a run:walk with a set ratio works best here. A good starting point for a mid-pack runner may be 7min running to 3min walking. The running is slightly faster than your normal long run pace and the walking is for recovery (ie. not too fast). You can safely accumulate the same amount of running as your normal long run – for example, if your current long run is 90min (roughly 7min x 13), you would match that with a 130min run:walk session. It’s still 7min x 13 reps of running but with recovery breaks. It’s also at a quicker pace than your current long run so it should be a tough session.
  2. Tempo run:walk – think of this as your 1k interval session but with walking recovery. It’s 1k hard, followed by 2min walk, back to 1k hard, etc. You should be able to run harder with a walking recovery but it still allows the heart rate to drop, providing the major benefit of intervals. Without the stationary time between reps, it also reduces your injury risk so it’s win/win.
  3. Hill reps – it’s going to sound odd but walking down steep hills is harder than running down (think about it – teenagers don’t run downstairs because of their unbridled enthusiasm for health and fitness!). As you descend the hill, gravity is pulling you down. Going slower requires more muscle work so walking gets your muscles working harder while your HR still gets to recover. So when you get to the bottom, you can go again immediately without the standing rest that’s often programmed in to these sessions.

Walking can be of huge benefit for runners, improving everything from muscle efficiency and running endurance, all with less injury risk. Try it and see what you think. You’ll notice an improvement in your running performance within a few weeks.

Written by

Pete Colagiuri
Sports Physiotherapist

Pete has over 20 years experience as a Physiotherapist and specialises in running biomechanics and complex injuries. He believes that you must identify and fix the underlying cause of an injury, to recover faster, prevent recurrences and improve performance.

Pete Colagiuri - Sports Physio