Talk about being ahead of your time. When Mr. Teabag and the Ministry of Silly Walks fetched laughs in the early 70’s, John Cleese and company certainly couldn’t have guessed the bit would make medical headlines some 50 years later. But here we are.
Briefly, a trio of researchers recently studied 13 participants to see whether Mr. Teabag’s silly, inefficient, stride would be a more effective way to burn calories and increase cardiovascular fitness. As part of the study, participants’ ventilation, gas exchange, and energy expenditure were measured over the course of various silly walks.
And while no one died of embarrassment, study participants did indeed work harder to cover the prescribed distance while doing the unorthodox walks. Compared to normal walking, they had about 2.5 times higher oxygen uptake and burned more calories in the process. Something completely different, indeed.
So what’s a one-off study based on a British sketch comedy show mean for runners like you and me? We asked Will Hayes, Performance Manager at Novant Health Sports Performance.
“When an athlete becomes very proficient at any movement discipline – running, swimming, biking, etc.—the energy expenditure the athlete needs for the activity decreases because efficiency in the movement has increased,” said Hayes. “If you take runners and assess VO2 max on a bike it will be lower than if it is assessed via running because of inefficiency in the athlete’s movement, generally speaking.”
We’ve likely all felt this shift in efficiency, especially after time away from running. Getting “back in shape” after injury, illness, or a layoff is the same experience but with a shorter learning curve.
Essentially, practice begets efficiency. That’s a good thing when you’re trying to get in the most miles or more miles faster. You’ll need to flip that equation if your goal is to burn more calories or challenge your body to adapt to new movements.
“For a recreational athlete who has goals around health and body composition, changing the exercise modality can provide increased stimulus particularly in metabolic expenditure (aka, calories burned) without increased intensity or volume,” adds Hayes.
Bottom line, to avoid plateaus in fitness and training your best bet is to mix it up. That doesn’t mean you have to run less – or run more – to get results. Adding hills, tempo runs, or trails to your running routine will do the trick. Strength training, yoga, and yes, even silly walks can boost your overall fitness and keep your running fresh and fun.