Posted by: thehungryrunner | June 15, 2010

Burn More Calories, Build Better Bones, and Feel More Energized with Effective Walk/Run Workouts

On the subject of running (or jogging) vs. walking, in my work I tend to find one of two distinct camps:  the “runners” – those who typically run continuously, without taking any walking breaks — and the “walkers” – those who either don’t see themselves as runners or had a bad experience with running or for various reasons choose to stick with walking only.  Yet over the last several years, I have become a strong proponent of hybrids of those two, and it’s been my experience that many in both “camps” could benefit greatly by adding walk/run workouts as part of their fitness program.

Note, I make the distinction here that, while walk/run workouts CAN be the bridge to continuous running, there can also be a tremendous value in choosing NOT to progress towards continuous running and instead just use the walk/run format as a permanent tool in your fitness or sports program.  The reasons for considering this option are numerous — well beyond what I can cover in a reasonably succinct article.  But here are some of the highlights:

(Note:  Please check first with your doctor to make sure running, even a small amount, is an option for you.)

  • More calories burned in less time:  Increasingly, studies are indicating that exercising to support effective weight control centers on the net calories burned.  And since running, even “light jogging,” requires more energy than walking, including short-duration jog or run spurts can significantly increase your caloric output, and best of all, enable you to accomplish this in less time.  To put it in real numbers, a 20-minute walk/run can actually be more effective in terms of the overall cardiovascular conditioning and calorie expenditure than a 40-minute moderate walk.  That’s impressive!
  • Reduced injury risk:  By mixing up the kind of movements you’re performing when working out, you activate a wider variety of muscles and change up the forces of gravity and demand on your joints, resulting in less repetitive stress on your ankles, knees, hips, back and even neck.  Furthermore, by switching back and forth between types of activity, you’re more likely to stay alert to practicing good form and technique, rather than just fall into your “default” way of moving.
  • Less boredom, more energy:  Who of us has not felt exhilarated following an invigorating outdoor outing, workout, game, or some other enjoyable activity?  And why was this?  Probably a combination of moving the body, relieving stress, engaging the senses, and just getting the blood flowing.  Yet, often when we settle into one kind of workout, such as walking, we lose some of that glee, some of the spark that holds our attention and leaves us feel refreshed when we’re finished.  By sprinkling in a handful of running or jogging intervals, our overall pace goes up, our heart rate gets to be tested at numerous levels, our breathing deepens, and suddenly our focus must shift back and forth to these transitions.  This keeps the workout interesting, which further helps clear the mind and energize the body, a particularly welcome effect when you’re coming off of hours of sitting!
  • Better bone density:  In recent years, studies are indicating that, although many forms of exercise can help promote healthy bones, the most effective stimulus for this effect is high-impact movement.  In other words, jumps.  And wahoo!  Running is a form of jumping.  Thankfully, you need not do much – the current recommendation is 50 or so jumps a day (if you count 50 strides of jogging, it really does add up quickly).  But it’s an addition worth considering if you’re concerned about your bone density.  As always, check with your doctor to ensure your body can sustain even small jumps.  Not everyone will be a good candidate for this option.
  • Better speed and power for athletes:  Contrary to popular belief, continuous running is not always the way to go if you’re an athlete looking to boost your power, speed, or overall fitness conditioning.  A workout comprised of run/walk intervals can be extremely intense, more so than days when a person just goes for a “nice, easy run”!  By restricting your run intervals to short spurts, you will often find you run faster, stronger, and with better form than when you’re running continuously.  So, although running continuously still has its place, including weekly run/walks is a smart strategy for ongoing improvement.

How to do it:
The nice thing about walk/run (or run/walk, whatever you prefer) workouts is that there are infinite ways to go about applying them.  Typically, a run interval will last anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes, followed by at least a 2-3 minutes of recovery walking.  If you’re just starting out, consider adding 5-10 intervals of 10-30 second runs on your next 20-minute walk.  See how you feel afterward.  Experiment with both the duration of your run intervals and the overall length of your workout.  You may find a 30-minute workout which includes a handful of 1-minute run intervals to be the perfect fit.  Or, you may decide a longer workout, with a variety of run durations (going more by how you feel) is the better option.  The trick is to find what works for YOU and stick with it, even if it means sticking with 10-20 second jogs, with lots of walking in between.  This is your workout, choose what will be most enjoyable to you!

Not so fast!
If you’re new to running, I’m here to help you avoid the most common mistake:  RUNNING TOO FAST!  Many a running or run/walk program has been sabotaged and scrapped for the sad reason that the person did not realize he or she was running at a pace that just isn’t sustainable.  Always start out with what you would describe as a “nice, easy, jog,” and don’t be afraid to slow down even further if you find that pace is still too intense.  Although there’s effort involved, obviously, your body should feel quite comfortable, your breath elevated but not breathless.

The Final Stretch
Yes, yes, that’s also the name of my e-letter (I am The Flexibility Coach, after all), but I wanted to use the headline to make the point that regardless of whether you’re walking or running or both, it’s extremely important to stretch afterward.  By doing so, you’re helping your muscles recover from the workout, reducing the chance of soreness and paving the way for your next outing to be enjoyable and comfortable.

Are you ready?
I hope I’ve inspired you to consider the almighty run/walk workout!  Give it a try and see if you don’t feel refreshed and ready for whatever the rest of the day presents to you!



  1. I love this post! I LOVE running… but recently discovered why it had suddenly become more laborous. I’m pregnant. I haven’t been running that long, but got hooked pretty quick. This post reminded me that speed doesn’t matter. Effort is what matters. So when I slow down during this first trimester, I’m not being lazy. I’m doing what my body can handle right now. Thanks, I needed the reminder!

    • Thank you, and congratulations on the pregnancy! I’m glad I could offer the reminder. And you are 100% correct; if anything, it takes even more discipline to respond according to your body’s needs of the moment, rather than forcing yourself through a workout that may have been the perfect fit six months ago, but needs to be re-examined and tweaked right now. Keep up the great work!

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