A Runner Studies Walking

The idea of mixing walking and running gives runners the best of both worlds: running makes workouts more intense and time-efficient and walking allows runners to go further. Running coaches, such as, Bobby McGee, coach to a number of world class runners and triathletes; Jeff Galloway, developer of the Run-Walk-Run Method; and John Stanton, author of the classic book, “Running: The complete guide to building your running program” - all mention mixing walking with running to some degree. Also, trail runners often bring out hiking poles from their pack to assist with a brisk walk up a steep section. As well, a recent post (HERE) mentioned a recovery benefit of adding a 45-minute brisk walk to a run day.

Considering the variety of walking that runners do, I decided to investigate two types of walking: Brisk Walking and Running Arms Walking, and for comparison purposes, Hands-In-Pockets Walking:

Brisk Walking

By rhythmically swinging the arms during walking, you’ll notice above this creates a counter-rotation movement of hips (pelvis) and shoulders, resulting in better hip extension and a longer stride. All things being equal, this improvement in mechanical energy makes it so relatively less muscle energy is needed. Also, walking tall is emphasized, with a slightly forward lean - chin slightly ahead of shoulders ahead of hips ahead of heels.

Running Arms Walking

Everything in Running Arms Walking is the same as Arm Swing Walking, except the elbows are bent to a 90° angle. This bend shortens the arm lever allowing the arms to move quicker, adding further mechanical advantage. This type of walking can be observed when walking with hiking poles during a trail run and during race walking.

Hands-In-Pockets Walking

For comparison purposes, Hands-In-Pockets Walking curtails the arm swing motion, resulting in less hip extension and a shorter stride than the other walks mentioned above. Also, walking tall with a slight forward lean is not emphasized.

For each of these modes of walking mentioned above, I did five walks on a flat surface and five on hills (approximately 7% grade). The cadence for each mode of walking was kept relatively similar about 120 steps per minute for each. The average pace per kilometer on flat terrain, uphill, and downhill for these three modes of walking is presented below:


Mode of Walking





11:16 / km

12:46 / km

11:06 / km


10:32 / km

11:44 / km

10:17 / km

Running Arms

10:08 / km

11:19 / km

10:08 / km

Heading into these walks, I was reasonably sure that Brisk and Running Arm Walking would be at a quicker pace than the comparison Hands-In-Pockets but unsure by how much. As readers will see this is the case for all three terrains - at minimum 7% improvement across the terrains. This difference was especially noticeable on uphill and downhill walks. I found myself wanting to take my hands out of my pockets to generate more momentum heading uphill and stabilizing myself going downhill.

The first conclusion is that walking with the arm swing motion demonstrated is a great general fitness activity for ANYONE.

Mixing Brisk Walking and running benefits a variety of training scenarios. From a beginning runner alternating a few minutes of walking with one minute of running to gradually improve their running fitness. To a more experienced runner training for a big race by alternating fast, short runs with slow jogging or walks (interval training). Or an ultra runner - whose adventures usually go beyond the marathon distance - finding the best mixture of walking and running so the distance can be covered and conquered.

In addition, a few hours after a run, a brisk walk using the arm swing motion helps with recovery. With an increase in mechanical energy, I noticed a slight rotation of the spine and those tight hip flexors get a gentle massage during a 45-minute recovery walk. This type of walking helps keep the runner loose and limber.

Finally, Running Arms Walking has potential for runners and walkers. While the cadence of walking was kept relatively equal this time, running arms allows you to push the pace and cadence higher. As a result, I can see this type of walking for athletes wanting a more intense workout, race walkers, and trail runners climbing a steep section. Like Arm Swing Walking, running arms help drive you uphill and stabilize you coming down.

Thanks for reading!

As mentioned above, I've added Arm Swing Walking to a run day to help with recovery. For comparison, readers may be interested in these posts on adding a second run to a training day: Two-A-Day Runs and Learning from a Professional Runner’s Training Schedule

The articles in this blog cover topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to running & travel at https://www.experiment1coaching.com .


A reader on Facebook commented: “A competitive trail runner will only walk on very steep sections, usually off-trail or unofficial trails that are crazy steep. Walking on flat ground is not zone 2 of 5 and barely qualifies as zone 1 of 5.” Reply: Just to add, on these steep sections, the posture of runners using Running Arms Walking with poles is noticeably improved compared to other runners too.
A reader on Facebook commented: “ Walking can be a useful training aid by keeping your foot on the ground as long as possible and concentrate on pushing off. As in race walking, it as the same effect as hill running.” Reply: If you’re on Twitter you may want to check out this video of the form of Canadian race walker, Evan Dundee. He’s going to be competing in the upcoming Olympics. https://twitter.com/evandunfee/status/1376321520868290562?s=21