Walk of Shame No More: The Benefits of Run-Walk Intervals

Walking during a running workout tends to be a source of shame for new runners...though it shouldn't be. Here's why the run walk method might actually be the best thing you can do for your training.

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I love working with beginners. It’s so incredible to see a new love for running bud in people who once thought they weren’t even capable of such a feat, and it’s rewarding to know that in some small part, I was able to help foster that passion. But starting anything new, especially running, hardly ever comes without growing pains.

One of the biggest struggles I see in new runners is a constant fear that they are not good enough, strong enough, or fast enough. They fear that they are “holding back” their peers or are a hindrance to their training group, running partner, or coach. And more often than not, new runners are ashamed of the fact that they need to take walk breaks.

But the reality is, walk breaks are not only NOT something to be ashamed of, but they are actually more often than not a GOOD idea.

No, I’m not just saying that to make you feel better.

In fact, there is such valid reasoning behind taking walk breaks, that an entire movement encouraging run/walk methods has been designed by former marathon Olympian Jeff Galloway.

The concept is this: from the very start of your run, you decide on intervals in which to take a walk break. The intervals could be as little as run one minute, walk 30 seconds, all the way up to running a full mile, then walking for 100 paces. There is no right or wrong when it comes to distance or time for these intervals.

But, it’s important to start the walk breaks from the very beginning. And here’s why:

When it comes to building endurance, one of the most important factors is time spent on our feet running. That time helps to strengthen our muscles as well as increase cardiovascular endurance. But a lot of people struggle to get past certain thresholds, such as a mile, or even a 5K. There are a lot of reasons for this.

The most obvious reason is a mental one. For a new runner, running for 30 minutes can seem wildly intimidating or even impossible. But breaking that workout up into shorter 5 minutes intervals? Totally doable! Keeping those shorter goals in the back of your head an lessen the intimidation of a longer run, allowing you to reach your goal without stressing about the “big picture”. (This obviously goes for much longer runs as well. 10 miles might seem insane to a first time half marathoner. But one mile? Not a problem!).

But on a more physiological level, the run walk method will help you to push your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength by letting your muscles (and lungs) to take a break. The continuous use of muscle results in faster fatigue (followed by muscular failure, or that burning feeling of “I just can’t go on!”). But research shows that cardiovascular development peaks between 30-90 minutes of exercise. So how do we get that point, and therefore improve, if we can’t physically run for 30 minutes straight yet?

You know the answer: walk breaks.

The walk breaks allow the muscles to rest and recover, and rally for the next running interval. This allows you to run more over the course of a workout before your body really begins to protest.

To add even more benefits to the run/walk method, research shows that these intervals will help reduce core body temperature, reduce the chance of injury, increase recovery time, increase running speed, and allow you to enjoy endorphins more (a.k.a. the elusive “runner’s high”.)

The point is, please don’t be ashamed of your running breaks. The run/walk method is not only acceptable, but is backed by science as a proven method to make you a stronger, faster runner.

So run…and walk…on, my friends!