Picture it: You decide to go for a run, maybe you’re training for a race or just letting off some steam. You have a goal in mind, X amount of minutes or Y number of miles. You put in your headphones, turn on your music, and head out the door. Then 10 minutes in, you feel a stinging pinch in your side. Or you feel out of breath. Or your legs feel like lead. Whatever the issue, you start to consider slowing your run to a walk—but then your brain chimes in and tells you not to. And you listen to it for as long as you can, because in your mind, walking means failing.
For some reason, in the running world, there’s a pervasive stigma surrounding walking. I myself am guilty of demonizing the run-walk method—when I’ve done it in the past, I’ve attached negative thought patterns to it. “You must be out of shape. You’ll never get back to where you were. You haven’t been running enough. You should just give up and go home.” I imagine some of this has to do with my past as an athlete when walking during a timed run test or on the field was seen as a sign of weakness. (If you played sports in your youth, I bet that conjures up some memories for you too.)
I believe it’s also in part due to the competitive culture around running. Running has always had an element of competition, but it’s been further cultivated in recent years. There are more road races now than ever, and we’re constantly being encouraged to up our game, be it through mileage (think ultra-marathons), time (think race qualifying times), or difficulty of terrain (think Tough Mudders and trail races). And because of that, we often associate walking with being a novice or being unfit to run. We think walking makes us less of a runner.
Not only is that line of thinking counterproductive—the fact that you’re getting out there and running at all is a major feat—but it’s not even true! On the contrary, walking during your runs is more than okay, and it can offer serious benefits to runners who do it.
To prove it to you, here are three ways that walking during your runs can actually help you become a better, healthier, and smarter runner.
1. Walking slashes your risk of injury
Running requires nearly every muscle in your body and it’s a high-impact exercise, which means that even for the most experienced runners, there’s significant room for error and injury. This is especially true for long-distance running because it puts demands on the body for long stretches of time. Studies have shown that the risk of injury is much lower for walking compared to running. This doesn’t mean you should forgo running altogether—every type of exercise has risks—but taking walk breaks can help lessen your chances of injury without compromising the benefits you gain from running. Plus, most running injuries stem from overuse, which taking periodic walk breaks can help you avoid.
2. Walking turns a run into an interval workout
It’s well-documented that interval training, especially HIIT (high-intensity interval training), is a superior form of exercise for those with performance or weight-related fitness goals. Steady-state cardiovascular exercise, like running at a constant pace for a certain time, has advantages too, but when you do the same workout over and over again, your body will start to adapt.
To put it simply, your body adapts to the stressors put on it—that’s why you get super sore the first time you try an exercise, and then the more you do it, the less sore you become. At the same time, your body is efficient—it wants to put in the least amount of work possible to achieve the same result. For example, if you run a mile at the same pace every day, your body will strengthen over time and it will require less effort to accomplish that same task. You’ll burn fewer calories too, which, if weight is something you care about, can be frustrating.
The best way to avoid the drawbacks of this adaptation is to keep your body guessing—that’s why HIIT workouts are so popular. Changing up your pace, like alternating bursts of running with short walks, keeps your body on its toes, can improve your cardiovascular health, and can even increase your muscle mass.
3. Taking walk breaks means you can run better for longer
No matter how experienced a runner you are, if you run for long enough, you’ll become fatigued—and when that fatigue sets in, your form will inevitably suffer. This may include slouching over, disengaging your core, or swinging your arms across your body. All of these changes can make running uncomfortable and painful in the short run, and increase your risk of injury in the long run. Walking during your runs allows your body to preserve some energy, absorb less impact, and, to some extent, recover. In my experience, taking walking breaks enables me to run longer distances overall, and makes the runs more enjoyable because there’s less strain on my body. And as someone who has dealt with a lot of injuries in the past, I’ll do just about anything to avoid them, including walking for a few minutes throughout a 5-mile run.
Bottom line: There’s no reason to feel guilty or shameful about stopping your run to walk. It’s normal to crave a walking break during a run, and as you can see from above, there’s a lot to be gained by doing so!
Jeff Galloway’s Run Walk Run method has helped thousands of people become runners. Read his Q&A on the Magic of his method.