If you are just starting to exercise, walk instead of run

I was walking along the trail when I heard the labored breathing and heavy footsteps. I looked up and I saw a large man whose face was drained. I watched his knees knock together with each step as his feet were highly everted. He was very out of shape. From looking at his ashen face, I was concerned about his circulatory system. From his form, I was concerned about the pain to come in time from his knees and ankles, if it he didn’t feel it already.

I most certainly applaud his intention, but I couldn’t help to think of the risk he was taking by running when he was clearly in no condition to do so. Running in this kind of form will ensure that running won’t be a consistent habit as injury is inevitable. Normally I’d say no steady pace running is a good thing; however, if it means he won’t choose to exercise because of an injury, it’s not so clear cut.

Telling someone to stop running who you don’t even know could be risky. Telling runners you know to stop running is risky, too. However, this kind of thinking that endurance training is the way to get in shape is just dangerous for the sedentary. If you are thinking about exercising, start walking instead.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Find a time in your day for 20-30 minutes. If you think you can’t find a contiguous block of 30 min, start looking at how what you do in a day could entail a walk. If you look, you will find it.
  2. Commit to making yourself healthy and realize that you don’t have to hurt yourself to do it.
  3. Commit to walking during this time you find.
  4. If you get tired, take a break. Walk again. If you get tired, take another break. This is a good pattern: walk, rest, walk, rest, etc.

Other notes:

  • If you have a soft tissue injury, let it heal (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) before walking.
  • Don’t train in pain! Seriously. It’s not sustainable. People do it, but at a cost.
  • When you are walking and your body is telling you that it’s tired, you don’t have to push it. You don’t have to keep going. It’s OK to take a break.

If you can integrate walking into your daily routine, you will be much healthier than if you didn’t and you’ll feel better. It feels great to be in shape and walking is a sustainable way to get in shape. After you can walk for an hour or so comfortably and you feel you need more (and you are clear to do so from a medical standpoint), start throwing some runs into the walk (and I mean of the sprint variety). That would look like:

  • Walk 5 – 1o min
  • Run for 30 sec at 40% of what you’ve got
  • Walk to recover until you can do another burst.
  • Run the same again.
  • Recover while walking again.
  • Aim for 5 sprint bursts and vary your intensity but keep the time under 30 sec.
  • Finish with a 10 to 15 min walk.

In summary, if you are just starting, walk. If you are feeling like walking isn’t enough, add some brief intensity with a sprint. All of this gives you a good amount of cardio vascular exercise that isn’t going to create a great deal of stress on your body. It also trains your slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers, kicks in your endocrine system, and takes you through the phosphagen system, fast glycolysis and slow glycolysis as well. These are fancy words, but it just means you are using your body as it is designed.

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