Alternating between running and walking is a great way to train for distance, but it also has a lot of other benefits. From knocking down your pace, you’ll increase calorie burn, reduce your risk of injury, improve your overall running performance, and minimize post-run fatigue!
Running is a high-impact sport that takes a large toll on the body, especially the joints. For anyone that’s ever tried to go 0 to 100 with running, you know first-hand that it’s not easy.
It’s a sport that takes time to build mileage and for your body to adapt to the forces. Walk-run interval training is a great place to start if you want to get into long-distance running.
If you always thought walking during a run was a cop-out, you’re in for some news—it could be one of the best ways to train your cardiovascular system for longer distances and improve overall health!
So, we’re breaking down the benefits of alternating between walking and running and giving you the top reasons you should start it.
What Is The Walk-Run Method?
The walk-run method is just as it sounds—you alternate between walking and running for a set distance.
Although there’s nothing inherently spectacular about this method, it’s pretty darn effective for boosting cardiovascular fitness and respiratory capacity and fantastic for those looking to reap the benefits of running and interval training but can’t yet keep up with the demands.
In simple terms, the walk-run method involves running for a set time, taking a planned walk break, and repeating for the entire distance.
The purpose of using this technique is to reduce overall stress on the body and mind, as running is a relatively high-stress activity. While the run-walk method is often associated with beginners, it can also be used by experienced runners.
But you can also crank up the intensity and incorporate more interval-style training into the walk-run method. While speed isn’t the most important factor here, you can use it to your advantage.
Alternating between a walk and a high-intensity run can increase your respiration and heart rate, effectively boosting endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Start with short run periods, then work up to 60 to 90-minute sprint bursts.
Before you think this is an easy out to completing an entire race or a long-distance run, there’s merit behind this technique.
Many studies have shown that interval-style training is equally effective, if not more effective, for overall gains than steady-state training 1. When done correctly, it can elevate your fitness to new heights.
So, with that said, let’s get into the details!
5 Benefits Of Alternating Between Running And Walking
For anyone trying to increase their running distance or improve their cardiovascular fitness, you may wonder whether a continuous steady-state run is more effective than a walk run.
In either case, you can’t go wrong, but here are some of the biggest benefits of alternating your pace.
1. Greater calorie burn
One of the top reasons why many athletes alternate between walking and running is because it’s an easy way to crush calories and burn fat.
For people looking to lose weight, calories in versus calories out is a big part of the weight loss game; you need to burn more than you consume if you want to lose weight.
The degree of calorie burn over a steady-state run largely depends on your intensity. Following the guidelines of HIIT and running at a pace of around 80%
HRmax means you’re elevating your heart and respiration rate to burn more calories. And on average, HIIT can burn up to 30% more calories than other training styles 2.
2. Reduced injury risk
One of the most significant benefits of alternating between walking and running is injury prevention.
Running is hard on the body—your joints are constantly pounding on the ground with every step, and runners are subject to all sorts of injuries, especially of the knees and ankles. And roughly 50-75% of all running injuries are overuse injuries due to repetitive movements 3.
When you run, the impact of repetitive movements on your bones and joints causes stress, which can eventually weaken joints, especially in untrained individuals. So, one of the simplest ways to mitigate the risk of injury is to tone down the pace.
Switching between walking and running helps to protect your muscles and joints from the excessive stress and shock that running imparts on the body, which may reduce joint and knee damage.
3. Improves running performance
For those new to running, you’ve probably figured out that going from a standstill to a 10k isn’t realistic—building distance takes time, and one of the best ways to do that is to build your endurance through the walk-run method.
Think about walk breaks like active recovery. By slowing down to a low-intensity pace, you give your body time to recover between bouts of running, which can delay fatigue, allowing you to run faster and further during subsequent workouts.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport looked at the effects of various pacing strategies on cardiac biomarkers and marathon performance in novice runners 4.
They found that despite different paces, both groups finished the marathon with similar times. Although the run/walk strategy doesn’t reduce the load on the cardiovascular system, it can help to minimize muscle discomfort during training.
So, with less muscle discomfort and slowly increasing your running interval times, you can increase your anaerobic threshold and improve running performance over time because your body becomes more efficient at preventing lactic acid building that induces fatigue.
4. Less fatigue post-run
How many times have you gone for a run only to come home absolutely beat? If you want to carry on through your day with as much energy as you had during your run, the walk-run method can help to reduce post-run fatigue.
Why? Continuous steady-state paces use the same muscles over and over, which increases the risk of lactic acid buildup and induces more fatigue, aches, and pain.
But when you mix in walking breaks, you can minimize some of the stress on your muscles and reduce fatigue, thereby keeping your muscles strong and capable the entire run.
Plus, running is hard work, and your muscles absorb a lot of shock with every stride, so taking a break with walking supports better muscle recovery and might help you extend your distance.
5. Suitable for all ages and fitness levels
New to running? Looking to improve your running pace? Training for a marathon?
Regardless of your age and fitness level, the walk-run method is an effective way to reap all the benefits of steady-state running and keep physically active without the same degree of stress on the body.
Several age-related diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes have links to a sedentary lifestyle 5, and the rapid increase in their prevalence has led to an increasing need for healthcare. But what if you could mitigate disease risk simply by exercising? Good news: you can!
Alternating between running and walking is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being for people that aren’t able to perform high-intensity exercise or may struggle with weightlifting.
And the best part? It’s easy to customize. Need to take it easy? Slow down the running pace. Want to ramp things up and elevate your heart rate? Sprint instead of running. There are many ways to customize the walk-run method to your needs and fitness goals.
How To Do The Walk-Run Method
Ready to get started with the walk-run method? Here’s how!
Before starting, find your baseline.
The best place to start using the walk-run method is by using what Galloway, the founder of the method, calls the “Magic Mile.” This is a workout to help you determine ideal or goal paces and the optimal work-to-rest ratio for your intervals.
Here’s how to do the “Magic Mile”:
- Warm up with a slow, 1-mile run
- Work in a few accelerations or strides
- Run a mile at a near-maximal effort as evenly paced as possible (this should be a pace you feel you cannot maintain for another 100 yards)
- Walk for 5 minutes to recover
Remember that you don’t need to perform a “Magic Mile” to enjoy the benefits of alternating between walking and running. If you don’t have a training goal, work at your own pace. Run for as long as you can, and when you feel tired, knock it back and walk for recovery.
Use the basic principles behind the interval method, and adapt it to fit your fitness goals and personal needs.
- Continuous muscle use leads to quicker fatigue
- Longer run segments mean more fatigue
- Walk-run method is a form of interval training
- Better ability to conserve resources and mitigate fatigue
- Accelerate recovery
- Less stress on bones, muscles, and joints
- Foster C, Farland CV, Guidotti F, et al. The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14(4):747-755.
- Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, et al. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(3):779-785.
- van Mechelen W. Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Med. 1992;14(5):320-335.
- Hottenrott K, Ludyga S, Schulze S, Gronwald T, Jäger FS. Does a run/walk strategy decrease cardiac stress during a marathon in non-elite runners?. J Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(1):64-68.
- González K, Fuentes J, Márquez JL. Physical Inactivity, Sedentary Behavior and Chronic Diseases. Korean J Fam Med. 2017;38(3):111-115.