Telling runners to slow down may seem counter-intuitive, but long-distance runners can benefit from adding walking to their training schedule.
Here are five ways in which adding low-impact activity to your routine may improve your overall health and performance:
1. Improve your endurance
With some adjustments, you can achieve similar gains in terms of endurance and calorie burn with a walk compared to a run. To do so, consider your normal run duration and double it for a brisk walk. For example, substituting a 60-minute walk for a 30-minute run can net you some of the same benefits, but with less joint impact. The increased duration is key, but it’s also important that your respiration and heart rate are both elevated during your walk.
2. Avoid overtraining
When you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic about your training — perhaps in anticipation of a big event or during a stretch of gorgeous weather — it can be easy to fall into a pattern of overtraining without even realizing it. Sometimes, the difference between training hard and overstressing your body can be a matter of adding or subtracting a running day from your schedule.
Walking can help to mitigate the intense strain on your body while still keeping you active and progressing. For example, if you run six days a week and begin experiencing symptoms of overtraining — persistent muscle soreness and fatigue, loss of motivation, irritability, decreased appetite — you may want to replace one of your running days with a low-intensity activity like walking.
3. Add variety to your training
Increasing the variety in your training can help make your conditioning more well-rounded and let you avoid the symptoms of overtraining mentioned above. Aim to structure your training days in a way that doesn’t put high stress on the same muscle groups day after day. For example, a balanced training schedule might be: two days running, one day walking, one day rest, repeat. Walking can be the perfect choice for a low-impact, low-intensity activity to balance your hard training days.
You should also add walking briskly at an incline to your routine to build your lower body strength. Walking up hills or gradual hikes are great options, or you can use a treadmill with an adjustable ramp — but don’t cheat by holding onto the handrails. (As a bonus, incline walking on the treadmill is great for the backside!)
4. Allow your muscles and joints to recover
In general, it’s better to undertrain than to overtrain and injure yourself. Replacing some running days with walking days may mean that you progress slightly slower, but in the long run, if it helps you avoid an injury that would’ve set your progress back by a month, it will be worth it. How does walking decrease your risk of injury? For the same reason it can help you avoid overtraining, adding a cross-training activity like walking to your schedule gives your muscles and joints a necessary break to recover and repair.
5. Stress relief
Walking can aid in stress relief, especially if you’re a competitive runner. By not worrying about your pace during a walk, you take the pressure off your performance, freeing yourself to enjoy your surroundings, clear your mind, and relax. Not only can this improve your overall mood, but it can make it easier to focus on your performance on your hard training days without feeling like you’re constantly under pressure.
If your training schedule feels too intense, try replacing one running day a week with a long, brisk walk and tracking the results the change has on your running-day pace, endurance, muscle aches, and mood. You may be pleasantly surprised by the uptick in benefits that comes from slowing down.