With the advent of high intensity training in sports such as CrossFit we have moved away from low intensity physical exercise and any physical activity such as walking. Does it make evolutionary sense to focus all activity on moderate and high intensity and leave out the power of walking?
The answer to the question is a resounding no. We are going to describe how walking can be used as a means of physical activity. Let’s describe how walking and other low-intensity activities make sense and have a place in our daily lives.
It is common to see people running or training at a medium intensity, that intermediate zone between low intensity (walking) and high intensity (sprinting). However, at an evolutionary level, this medium intensity was hardly used in our daily lives.
Our distant ancestors walked a lot
We were nomadic subjects who moved from one area to another in search of food. We had to cover long walking distances of several days or even weeks. It seems like a long time ago, and it has, but on a genetic level we are virtually identical to those ancestors who walked for weeks at a time.
On a day-to-day basis they also walked for several hours to gather plants, logs when fire was invented, and whatever else they needed. So the activity we are designed for is walking.
Running has always been the exception
On the complete opposite side we find running at maximum speed. Our ancestors fed mainly on plants, tree fruits and fish. Occasionally we went out to hunt prey, and then we had to run.
We had to run to catch it and also to avoid being caught ourselves, so we ran as fast as we could until the danger was over. In proportion, these maximum speed runs were very small compared to the hours we spent walking every day.
How can I introduce walking into my daily routine?
In today’s knowledge age, where mental work is taking over from physical work, we spend most of the day sitting down. Physical jobs such as seasonal workers, bricklayers, postal deliverers who deliver by walking, etc. have a different mention.
For sedentary jobs we need to break those long periods of sitting for hours on end. We can do this by using the Pomodoro technique which consists of establishing an active rest time after each working time.
A classic example is to divide blocks of an hour in which 50 minutes are with maximum concentration and seated doing our work, and the remaining 10 minutes we get up and walk around the office, go up and down stairs or move in any way that suits us.
By interrupting the sedentary lifestyle every few minutes, we can avoid minor problems in the short term and serious problems in the long term. A contracture in the back is a minor problem in the short term, a hernia or low back pain is a serious problem in the medium and long term.
In the short term, reduced vascular function can lead to spider veins or varicose veins, which indicate poor blood flow. In the long term it can lead to thrombi which can have dire consequences such as heart and circulatory problems.
This is how a few minutes a day, spread over eight working hours, can help us to mitigate the adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
It is vital that every hour or so we get up from our chairs and get our blood circulation and muscles going. The growing demand for standing desks and treadmills to complement this indicates that people are increasingly aware of this.
Walking before running
Many people want to run on their first day, breaking the first rule of running: you have to be fit to run, not run to be fit. The best way to get fit is to start walking, especially if you have an illness or are overweight.
There is a very simple strategy that consists of alternating periods of walking with periods of running. At a lower level we will spend more time walking than running. The higher the level you reach, the more time you will alternate and the longer you will be able to run.
Establish series of five minutes. Depending on your level, start with more or less running time and progress to higher levels. Running does not mean running at maximum intensity. It means jogging for that time at the speed at which you would run all the time, not sprinting.
- Level 1: walk 4’30” and run 30″.
- Level 2: walk 4′ and run 1′.
- Level 3: walk 3’30” and run 1’30”.
- Level 4: walk 3′ and run 2′.
- Level 5: walk 2’30” and run 2’30
- Level 6: walk 2′ and run 3′.
- Level 7: walk 1’30” and run 3’30
- Level 8: walk 1′ and run 4′.
- Level 9: walk 30″ and run 4’30”.
- Level 10: run all five minutes.
Set a number of sets according to your level of endurance. Each cycle is five minutes, so if you are going to train for half an hour you would have to do six cycles. So depending on your choice of total training time.
It all depends on the context. If you are only going to train for three hours a week, low-intensity, long-duration training is not a good idea because you need to introduce more intensity because you are short on time.
Ideally, you should have plenty of time to train, so you can do low-intensity, long-duration training most of the time, and apply shorter, more intense training at certain times of the week.
It is the eternal struggle between intensity and volume. These variables are inversely proportional. If we want to run at full speed, we can run for 60 metres, but not for one kilometre. If we want to do physical activity for 6 hours, we will have to do it at a low intensity because the volume is too high.
Which of the two types of training is better?
It is best to mix the two. We have already mentioned that at an evolutionary level we are designed to walk for hours and hours or to sprint for seconds. The in-between zone is usually not optimal and that is why professional endurance athletes spend most of their training in the low intensity zone.
Clearly their low intensity zone occupies paces that would be high intensity for us. Our low intensity zone would be fast walking or jogging at low paces. The higher level we have that low intensity allows us to go faster and faster because even if we go faster, the intensity for us is low.
On the other hand, we have the high intensity zone where advanced high intensity series and strategies are performed. Due to their demand, they tend to occupy a low percentage of the total volume, dedicating one day a week or two at the most.
Practical application: the power of walking
If you go to your sports club three or four days a week and for the rest of the day you are sedentary, you are a sedentary person who trains. To be an active person you have to occupy your day with active tasks. The easiest one to implement is walking.
Walking to and from work, shopping, going up the stairs at home and all low-intensity physical activity for several hours is equally or more important than that hour spent in the gym. That way we will be active people who also train.