Walking is possibly the healthiest and most natural human activity. It’s an ideal starting point for transitioning into running. It’s likewise an ideal supplement to running and ideal recovery activity.
Walking and Health
We often think of health and fitness as synonyms, but they’re subtly different. Health describes to your overall well-being, while fitness describes performance. They often go hand-in-hand, but it’s possible to be very healthy without having a high degree of fitness. It’s also possible to be fit at an elite level, and to have health problems not just in spite of, but because of, your extreme training regimen. For example, elite athletes often suffer overuse injuries, late-age joint problems, cardiac scarring, and weakened immune systems. These athletes can sometimes resemble exotic sports cars that perform incredibly, but are in the shop every other day!
Walking is a low-stress, low-impact activity, which promotes cardiac health and overall well-being. Studies have correlated regular walking with longer life expectancies.
But by itself, walking won’t build high levels of fitness (unless you’re regularly walking up very steep hills). It can, however, offer a path to higher-intensity exercises, like running. And it can supplement running, to speed your recovery and help prevent overtraining. If you combine running and walking, you can have the best of both worlds.
Walking While Learning to Run
If you’re embarking on a running program for the first time, the ideal method is to start by walking. Get your body used to exercise with long brisk walks, and then start mixing in short bursts of running. Walk to warm up, then run for two minutes. Walk for two minutes. Repeat a few times. The next day just walk.
Gradually increase the length of the running segments, and then gradually decrease the length of the walking segments. Within a few weeks you might find yourself running a 5K with little effort.
Eventually you might be able to run for 30 minutes, then walk for five, then run for another 20 or 30 minutes. One day you won’t need the walking segments at all.
Walking During Recovery Days
Walking will continue to be an excellent activity on recovery days. You may even find yourself craving your recovery walks. When you’re stiff from the previous day’s run, a good brisk walk with long strides can feel like a stretching session and a massage all at once. Walking gets the blood flowing to speed recovery. It lets your joints and muscles warm up and move through a range of motion. And it does so without causing much stress or impact.
Walking in Hills and Mountains
When the going gets steep, you may need to walk even after you’ve reached a high level of running fitness. Trail runners often “power hike” the steepest uphill sections: they place their hands on their thighs, to get some upper body into the action, and charge up the steepest slopes, in a fast walk, with their torsos bent slightly forward.
This offers the added benefit of an arm workout. Likewise, many trail runners, along with hikers and alpine climbers, use trekking poles. These are lightweight, adjustable-height devices that resemble ski poles, but that have a sharp carbide tip at the end, and often a stiff spring for absorbing impact on downhills. Trekking poles get your whole upper body into the action, while helping with balance on loose terrain, and taking some stress off your knees.
On steep, technical terrain, you may also find yourself walking the downhills. Whenever you feel that an attempt to bound downhill like a mountain goat might result in a tumble onto the rocks, trust your instincts. Don’t be ashamed to walk. This is another situation where trekking poles are a secret weapon for many.
We hope you’ll find ways to integrate walking into your running program, and into your life. Your body will thank you.