Many runners see walking as the enemy — something to be employed only when the body is too tired to keep running. And a lot of walkers see running as too intense or are unable to run continuously due to joint problems. But running and walking don’t have to be mutually exclusive activities.
Combing both disciplines into run-walk intervals can be a safe and effective way to increase your endurance, log more miles and stave off injuries — all while getting a great workout. And because of their customizable nature, intervals can be tailored toward people of varying fitness levels, from beginners to experienced runners.
Jeff Galloway, run coach and author of “The Run-Walk-Run Method,” says intervals give runners control over fatigue. Rather than running until you’re exhausted, you build in walking segments to keep from ever getting exhausted in the first place. This allows for continual movement, quicker recovery and, often, faster finish times: Run-walk intervals can keep you from hitting that dreaded wall. And maybe even from getting injured.
“Alternating running with walking breaks up the pounding on your joints,” says Michele Stanten, the ACE-certified fitness instructor behind My Walking Coach and the author of “Walk Your Way to Better Health.” That alone is a great reason to experiment with intervals. To get started, she suggests “one on, two off” — so that could mean 30 seconds running, and one minute walking; it could mean two minutes running, and four minutes walking or whatever else works best for you. “Listen to your body,” she says. “If you can increase the running portion, great, but if you need a longer recovery, take it. The important thing is that you don’t stop moving.”
Those new to run-walk intervals might notice they’re able to exercise longer. By reducing the impact on your joints, and reducing the portion of high-intensity exercise, the duration of activity can increase. Say you can typically run for 20 minutes. Using the one on, two off method above, you can break up that 20 minutes of running with 40 minutes of walking. That results in a full hour of cardio. Way to go.
While run-walk intervals are great at safely extending your workouts, they can also be used to improve speed or to cram a quality workout into a shorter period of time, says Stanten. “When you’re pushing at higher intensities, you burn more calories, burn more fat, improve heart function and enjoy a host of other healthy benefits.” If that’s your goal, you might try a one-to-one run-to-walk ratio or boosting your speed during the running intervals. To make it happen, she suggests going faster than your normal pace, but not pushing to the point where you are gasping for air.
READ MORE > HOW A RUN/WALK PROGRAM CAN MAKE YOU FASTER
No matter which interval method you undertake, if you’re working toward an event, Stanten says be sure you train the same way you want to complete the event on race day. If you want to run-walk from start to finish, then run-walk during your training. If you want to run the entire event, then your training should be run-focused. But in that case, intervals can still be helpful in building up endurance, especially if you’re a new runner. And they can also be employed on recovery days, when you want a light workout to keep the body moving between heavier training days.