Running Recovery: Walking is Excellent for all Ages

Most runners shy away from walking including myself.  It just seems so boring and takes so long to cover a given distance.  We would rather do just about any other cross training or recovery method than walking, yet there are superior benefits not to be overlooked.

Walking is a great way to aid in recovery after a hard run.  Walking aids in blood circulation, clearing the body of waste and reducing inflammation.  It is a convenient, and productive way to allow the running muscles to recover.  There are more benefits to walking than just reducing soreness and fatigue making it an ideal recovery activity. 

After a hard or long run there is the danger of injury and overtraining.  Recovery is key for improved performance as the body adapts to the stress of a hard workout. 

Walking can support the recovery process and even speed it up in the hours and days afterwards.   You don’t need any special equipment, it can be performed virtually anywhere, and there are lots of benefits beyond running recovery.

Reviewing all the benefits may inspire you, as I have been, to make better use of this convenient and practical activity.  In addition, there are also a few things that should be considered for optimal recovery when choosing walking. 

What are the benefits of walking?

  • Increases the synovial fluid in your joints
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Increases the bodies natural opioids which are natural pain killers
  • Reduces loss of bone density (normal part of aging) which running also does
  • Strengthens your foot and ankle muscles which stabilizes hips neck and back
  • Mobilizes the lymphatic system
  • Improves lumbar muscle function
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases oxygen to the brain
  • Clears waste at the cellular level
  • Risk of injury extremely low
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Reduces cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • Boosts metabolism

 Many experts recommend 30 minutes of walking for the overall health benefits, but for optimal recovery from a hard or long run you should listen to your body.  You may benefit more from shorter more frequent sessions than going for one long walk, especially in the hours after a hard run.

As one foot is always in contact with the ground there is a lot less stress on the body making it a low impact activity.  Your gait and stride when walking are not the same while running as different muscles, ligaments, and tendons are being used.  This allows the ones used in running to rest.

Walking is an activity that can done efficiently for hours before fatigue sets in making it an ideal recovery activity.  To get the maximum benefits from this recovery method it is best to walk slowly with short strides at the beginning and increase as your body can handle more.

Can I or should I walk when I’m sore?

In general, you can walk when you are sore from exercise and will likely feel better afterwards. Walking is generally safe and can reduce soreness due to all the physiological benefits of walking. If you are injured or suspect you may be injured, do not walk and seek medical attention.

It may be difficult to know if you are experiencing normal muscle soreness or have an injury. If you are unsure you should not walk as this could cause further injury and delay the healing process.  If you are feeling any pain, you should refrain from walking and follow up with a medical professional. 

Other symptoms of an injury include feeling nauseated, sharp pain, a dull pain that doesn’t go away, swelling, numbness or tingling, and loss of function in the injured area.  If you are unsure if you are injured, it is best to be cautious and seek medical advice. 

What is active recovery?

Active Recovery is a light, low-intensity exercise after a high-intensity workout.  It improves recovery and performance and includes such activities as walking, swimming, and cycling.  The risk of injury is low if activities are performed at a low intensity.  Active recovery is often preferred to passive recovery in reducing soreness and fatigue.

Unlike passive recovery, such as laying on the couch, active activity such as walking stimulates blood flow, getting needed nutrients to the body while removing waste products at the cellular level thus speeding up recovery.  It promotes mobility and reduces stiffness if done in proper amounts and is not too aggressive. 

Many coaches and experts recommend taking a week or two off (or more) from running after a marathon or ultramarathon.  Recovery should be the priority.  Without sufficient recovery, running performance will be affected and the risk of injury and burnout increase.

Most agree that a recovery period does not mean doing no activity.  Most coaches and experts encourage low-impact activity during this phase.

Both passive and active recovery are beneficial to avoid injury and return as a strong runner.   How long you need will depend on how much damage you have experienced and how quickly your body can heal.

How fast should I walk for recovery?

This will depend on how sore you are and what your fitness level is.  If you are extremely sore than even a slow stroll will be painful and probably more than you should be doing. 

The goal of recovery is to aid your muscles in rebuilding and repairing.  Fatigued muscles can be easily overloaded so be careful that your pace is not too brisk.

You want to get the blood flowing and heart rate elevated slightly without any additional stress on the primary running muscles.  Your pace can impede your recovery if done too fast.  Walking is still exercise and you can add more stress to your body if you walk longer or faster than your body can handle.

Key Takeaway

After a hard run, although you may prefer to sit on the couch and binge on Netflix to recover, remember that walking may be more beneficial to speed up your recovery.  It’s a simple, convenient, and productive low-impact exercise with a ton of benefits making it an ideal recovery strategy.

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