Why Walking is Great Cross-Training for Runners

man and women walking

At a coaching seminar I attended a few years back, the instructor pointed to a list of cross training activities and asked, “Which of these cross training activities has the greatest functional carryover to running?” We started picking answers from the list -- including water running, cross country skiing, cycling  -- and she kept shaking her head. Not one of the 30 running coaches in the room guessed the correct answer: Walking.

Benefits of Walking

Indeed, walking tends to get overlooked as a cross-training option for runners, but it certainly has it benefits. Walking mimics the movements of running so, unlike other cross training activities, it strengthens and increases endurance of ALL the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments that are used while running. However, since one foot is always in contact with the ground, there’s a lot less pounding, making it a great option for those who are injury-prone or who are returning from or rehabbing an injury.

Another benefit of walking is that, unlike other forms of cross training, you don’t need access to any special equipment to do it. It’s simple to do, won’t cost you anything, and you can do it anywhere. If you’re into race walking or hiking, you may even get to the same heart rate and aerobic benefit level as running.

When to Walk

The best time to incorporate walking into your training is to use it as a recovery from a long or hard run. Walking in the afternoon or morning after a hard race or a long run gets the blood flowing and stretches out your running muscles without putting additional strain or even more pounding. It’ll help improve your flexibility, without increasing your injury risk. If you ran a race in a new city, walking around and seeing some tourist attractions after your race is a great way to recover.

How to Incorporate Walking into Your Runs

You can also get many of the above benefits of walking by adding some walking to some or all of your runs. Some runners find that taking a walk break can really break up the monotony during a long run or race, which can help you deal with the mental challenges and any discomfort they may be feeling. Here are some ways to incorporate walking into your runs or races:

  • Walk for the warm-up and cool down portions of your runs.
  • Try a run/walk approach, where you run for a certain period of time or distance, and then walk for a different interval. Some runners who use this approach say it helps keep them injury-free.
  • Walk through the water stops during a race. Some runners like to break up their running by walking through water stops so they don't have to try to drink on the run.

If you do add some walking into your runs, just make sure that you still maintain good form and don't take it as an opportunity to really slow down and rest.

You should make sure you keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle (not at your side) and take quick steps. That will make the transition back to running much easier and smoother.

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