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Jeff Galloway

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An Exercise Merger: Running and Walking

Posted: 11/07/11 11:56 AM ET

"The scheduled use of walk breaks, gives each runner control over fatigue and running enjoyment."

Surprisingly, runners tend to record faster times when they insert strategic walk breaks from the beginning. I know that this runs counter to everything the high school PE coach stood for. But after having conducted dozens of surveys of runners, I can now say with confidence: if you want to run faster, try my run-walk-run method.

In 1974, I was asked to teach a class in beginning running to 22 real novices. I decided to start by walking for 15 to 20 minutes with a few short segments of running, and gradually increased the running segments over 10 weeks. Most continued to take walk breaks to the end of the class and all finished a 5K or 10K. Most important to me: there were no injuries. I had never been with a group of more than 10 runners for 10 weeks without a single injury.

As I expanded my Galloway training programs in the '70s, '80s and '90s, I found that veterans received significant benefits from run-walk-run too: reduced injuries, the ability to carry on life activities after long runs, quick recovery and then the big surprise -- faster times in races.

Walk before you get tired

Most of us, even when untrained, can walk for several miles before fatigue sets in, because walking is an activity that we are bio-engineered to do for hours. Running is more work, because you have to lift your body off the ground and then absorb the shock of the landing. Several anthropologists who study ancient man have told me they believe that humans were originally adapted to run continuously for about 200 yards.

The continuous use of the running muscles will produce fatigue, aches and pains much more quickly. If you insert a walk break before running muscles start to fatigue, the muscle can recover quickly -- increasing your capacity for exercise while reducing the chance of next-day soreness.

The run-walk-run "method" involves having a strategy. By using the right segments of running and walking, for the individual, it's possible to manage fatigue. At the end of a marathon the muscles will be tired, but correct use of walk breaks from the beginning will mean little or no slowdown during the last six miles. This is the portion of the race where most runners slow down dramatically and walk a lot.

Beginners will alternate very short run segments with short walks. Even elite runners find that walk breaks on long runs allow them to recover faster. There is no need to reach the end of a run, feeling exhausted -- if you insert enough walk breaks, for you, on that day.

Walk breaks...

  • Give you control over your level of fatigue
  • Erase fatigue.
  • Push back your tiredness "wall."
  • Allow for endorphins to collect during each walk break -- you feel good!
  • Break up the distance into manageable units. ("One more minute until a walk break.")
  • Speed recovery.
  • Reduce the chance of aches, pains and injury.
  • Allow you to feel good afterward -- doing what you need to do without debilitating fatigue.
  • Give you all of the endurance of the distance of each session -- without the pain.
  • Allow older runners to recover fast, and feel as good or better than in the younger days.

A shorter stride

It's better to walk at a gentle pace, using a gentle stride. There has been some irritation of the shins, when runners or walkers maintain a stride that is too long.

No need to stop taking walk breaks

Some beginners assume that they must work toward the day when they don't have to take any walk breaks at all. This is up to the individual, but is not recommended. Remember that you decide what ratio of run-walk-run to use. There is no rule that requires you to run any ratio of run-walk on any given day. I suggest that you adjust the ratio to how you feel.

Keeping track

There is now a run-walk-run timer, which can be set to beep or vibrate when it's time to walk, and then beep again when it's time to start up again.

How to use walk breaks

  • Start by running for 5-10 seconds, and walking 1-2 minutes.
  • If you feel good during and after the run, continue with this ratio. If not, run less until you feel good.
  • After 3-6 sessions at the ratio, add 5-10 seconds of running, maintaining the same amount of walking.
  • When you can run for 30 seconds, gradually reduce the walking time to 30 seconds, every 3-6 sessions.
  • When 30 seconds/30 seconds feels too easy, gradually increase the running time, 5-10 sec every 3-6 sessions.
  • On any given day, when you need more walking, do it. Don't ever be afraid to drop back to make the run more fun, and less tiring.

Note: For more information, see "A Women's Guide to Running," "Running Until You're 100," "Getting Started," at www.RunInjuryFree.com.

I've run for about 50 years, and enjoy running more than ever because of walk breaks. I've been injury-free for 33 years -- the length of time I've been using the run-walk-run method. I would not be able to run almost every day if I didn't insert the walk breaks early and often.