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For new runners, walk breaks are a common training tool used to help manage longer distances when first building fitness. They serve a helpful purpose. Just like during an interval workout, the walk break is a recovery period that accomplishes a few important goals:
- Walk breaks reduce heart rate, preventing new runners from working too hard on what should otherwise be an easy run.
- It allows beginners to finish longer distances than they could with just running alone.
- The psychology of a walk break allows beginners to easily tackle longer runs from a mental perspective. It doesn’t seem as challenging when you can stop to walk!
Clearly, there are good reasons to stop and walk during a run. But should walk breaks be used indefinitely?
As a coach, my answer is no. Walk breaks soon stop serving their purpose once a runner reaches a certain fitness level Just like training wheels on a child’s bike are not used forever, neither are walk breaks.
The fitness needed to eliminate breaks is not too substantial. Beginner runners can complete all of their mileage much sooner than they realize!
How to transition away from walk breaks
First, it’s helpful to understand why many runners utilize walk breaks when they first start training. It’s a common belief that walking during a run prevents running injuries. However there is no evidence to support that idea. Taking several 1 to 2-minute walk breaks during a 30-minute run only reduces the volume of running by a mile or less. That’s not significant enough to provide any injury prevention benefit.
Instead, walk breaks should be viewed as a stepping stone to more sustained, consistent running. After 4 to 6 weeks of steady exercise, most runners will be ready to limit their walk breaks—and soon, completely eliminate them from their running.
The first thing you can do to eliminate breaks is to reduce the duration of the walking interval by 30 seconds or a minute. If you are used to walking for two minutes, try a 90-second or 1-minute walk break.
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Once the walk break is reduced to a minute or less for 1 to 2 weeks, runners are ready to take less frequent walk breaks. If you typically run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute, then it can be extended to run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute. Keep repeating this pattern until you are soon running for 7 to 10 minutes before a short, 30-second walk break.
This progressive, gradual approach has multiple benefits:
- It prevents the runner from running too much, too soon.
- It’s mentally manageable so runners won’t get frustrated.
- Running for longer stretches of 5 to 10 minutes builds self-confidence as fitness level increases.
Once you can run for 7 to 10 minutes before needing to stop for a brief walk period, it’s time to take the next step: a “walk only as needed” approach. Instead of eliminating walk breaks completely, an “as needed” philosophy gives the runner the chance to walk with no guilt, while still adapting to running for longer periods of time. Athletes should walk only when they feel like their heart rate is getting too high or their breath is labored. An easy run should be comfortable, controlled and conversational.
After 2 to 3 weeks of using the “as needed” approach to walking, the vast majority of runners will be able to successfully transition away from walking. They will soon be running the entirety of their weekly mileage without needing to stop and walk.
Of course, if you feel like you need to stop and walk, then you should! High temperatures, humidity, altitude and even wind are all obstacles that make running more difficult.
With fewer walking stops, runners will increase their confidence, be able to run higher weekly mileage and successfully improve their fitness. And the best part—you will also be a lot faster too!
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