How Run-Walks Can Improve Your Run Part 1

In this 2 part Blog series we are going to discuss the importance of walking in your run training and how a Return to Run program works. If you’ve experienced a running related injury you have likely used a program like this.

Part 1 - Understand the Key Differences Between Walking & Running

We walk to get where we are going every day. We run for expression of natural human capability in sport, athletic endeavors and to forge our physical and mental health. 

If you have ever read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich or Endure by Alex Hutchinson you understand the fundamental necessity to run and its effect on Self and performance. (3 of my personal favorites in running related books)

Even if you’ve never read any of these titles and you only started running a month ago you probably already know the freeing feeling that running gives you…the runner’s high is real, and I believe it is one fountain of youth. 

But what I am proposing now is the importance of walking in your life and how to become aware of the key differences between it and running. 

Let’s compare the gait cycle in walking to running. 

Gait Cycle in Walking

Gait Cycle in Running

What’s the most obvious difference between these two graphics?

- Time in Stance Phase

Look at that dramatic difference! Walking we spend almost 60% of the time on the ground, whereas running only about 35% of the time is spent on the ground. 

Time in stance phase almost becomes an inverse relationship when comparing walking to running. 

But, no duh right? When you’re running you are purposefully increasing your speed and cadence so it makes sense that you should be off the ground more, right?

Well, here’s the problem that most people fall into when running. And this is true across novice and experienced runners who have lost self awareness in their gait cycle. 

They’re spending too much time on the ground!

And guess where injuries happen? When you’re interacting with the ground, attempting to get off of it. 

So since stance time is much more limited in running, how you use it becomes significantly more important. 

Efficiency is the goal

If you want to improve your running you should understand the difference in how we absorb and create load when walking.

How our legs accept load and create it.

During walking the toes, foot and ankle support your body weight through a rigid lever system to propel you forward. Weight is transferred through the heel at “initial contact” to the toe in “toe off”.

This allows us to maintain our posture, balance and coordination as we transfer weight from one foot to the other.

As a side note, it’s quite ironic how much attention and effort is put into developing and learning how to walk when we are children, yet once we become adolescents and adults we tend to zone out from our daily experience of walking. 

Although it’s a rigid system, we cannot be too rigid or we slam our heel down on the ground too hard. And we cannot be too soft or we risk collapsing everything up from the foot into gravity like jelly with no support. 

Now compare this to how we should run. We change this rigid lever system to become more like a spring.

Notice how the blue arrow (center of mass) begins to lower as the foot strikes the ground and propels upward and forward as we get off the ground. This lowering in the center of mass (COM) is crucial to the spring-like mechanism of running.

And it can only happen if the foot strikes in a manner needed for running, NOT walking. 

Take a look at these photos of a runner we worked with. 

Without knowing anything about them, which photo looks more like someone running?

Screenshot of Gait Analysis

Hopefully you answered with the bottom. 

  • See how both feet are actually in the air just before his right leg hits the ground. 
  • Also notice how high his back leg is pulling, getting ready to swing forward to the next step - this is crucial for how the foot lands with each step. 

What’s interesting to point out is that both of these photos were actually taken when the client was running.

Put it all together to feel the difference.

So now that you can see one of the key differences between walking and running, begin to play your own perception and awareness game when you walk and when you run. 

Can you perceive the difference between your posture in walking and running?

Can you feel the rigidness needed to be tall in your walk?

Can you identify with the spring-like mechanism of how to run?

If you are struggling to find these differences give our Marching Drill a try. This is a simple way to ensure the foot lands in a position ready to act like a spring. 

Remember less time on the ground in stance phase is how we run and perceiving that pull is how we integrate the differences in being a rigid lever vs a spring. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic where we break down how to use Run-Walks in your training.