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Burning Fat

Owen Anderson, editor of Running Research News, theorizes that walking during your hard training runs may be a way to burn more fat. As exercise intensity increases, blood flow to the working muscles goes up to ensure that the muscles get a steady supply of oxygen. The problem with this is that most of the free fatty acids (FFA) released from fat cells during exercise are not located in the muscles they are released from fat stores. Because most of the blood is in the muscles, the FFAs have a difficult time getting circulated to be metabolized as fuel. During a walking break, however, the heart rate drops and the blood is diverted away from the muscles and back into the central core of the body. This increases the concentration of FFAs in the blood, so that when exercise resumes, the blood flows back into the working muscles where the FFAs can be used as fuel.

Another benefit of walking breaks is that they can lengthen the time you spend exercising, which in turn burns more calories during the workout. If you are trying to lose weight, this may be a way to add volume to your workouts without adding stress to your body.

Warming up and cooling down

Walking seems to be a natural activity for warming up and cooling down, since it uses a lot of the same muscles as running. Henderson recommends walking as a good way to ease into a run or slowly wind down from a hard workout. Anderson, however, sees walking only as a form of recovery for non-workout days. He explains, "Not many elite runners use walking for warm-up or cool-down."

Before a difficult workout, jogging may still be the best way to warm-up to get your heart rate up relatively quickly and blood flowing to the working muscles. For those workouts, try walking before jogging to bring the heart rate up to jogging speed, then jog to bring the heart rate up to workout speed.

The same applies to the cool-down. Walking during a cool-down is a form of active recovery, which helps clear the lactic acid out of the muscles faster than if you come to a dead stop. Jogging may be more effective after a hard workout, but usually walking is a more comfortable way to cool down especially in the heat. You'll have to experiment to find out what works best for you.


The jury is still out on using walking as cross-training. The Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter says that "fitness walking is a good cross-training technique because it involves different muscle groups and different biomechanical motions" than running. Henderson agrees. He recommends walking for cross-training because it "is as close to running as you can get." Walking also fits your schedule and budget just as well as running does other forms of cross-training require extra equipment, time, and/or money.

However, Anderson believes that there are several better cross-training choices for runners. He explains, "I would rank walking behind activities like cycling, weight training, aqua-running, and the Stairmaster." Anderson cited several studies that have shown cycling and aqua-jogging to be very useful to runners, but "there has been very little evidence to support walking."

Daniels believes that cross-training is fine, but he cautions against replacing running workouts with walks. He believes that walking can be beneficial in addition to regular training but that it is no substitute for weekly mileage. Daniels adds, "If the cross-training helps you avoid injury, then it would certainly benefit you, but only because you would be able to run more."

So whether you're a beginner runner just starting out or a hard-core pavement pounder, walking can benefit your running. In your efforts to go farther and faster, don't forget one technique that might help you get there in record time slowing down all the way to a walk.

How walking helps your running

  1. Helps you survive a long race on a reduced training base.
  2. Extends the distance of long runs while reducing wear and tear on your legs.
  3. Improves fitness faster if you're just starting or are returning from injury (interval effect).
  4. Burns more fat by mobilizing free fatty acid stores during walking breaks, and burns more calories by extending the length of your workouts. Increases aerobic training when your body can't handle more mileage (cross-training effect).
  5. Eases you into your run when warming up and helps you actively recover while cooling down.

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Martin Barnard has degrees in both economics and kinesiology. He is an acquisitions editor for Human Kinetics. Before landing in Illinois, Martin was a Contributing Editor for Rocky Mountain Sports magazine and a Contributor for Inside Triathlon magazine in Boulder, Colorado.

Article Source: Road Runners Club of America

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