While one is often viewed as the more difficult of the two, comparing power walking vs. running will show that the two fitness modalities are actually quite similar when it comes to how they affect your body. Both get your heart pumping, strengthen your muscles and bones, and even boost your mood. So whether you’re up for a brisk jog or feel more like strolling with speed, you really can’t go wrong.
Like running, power walking is considered a cardio workout. For a solid power walk, pick up your pace and pump your arms, says certified personal trainer Danielle Gray, NASM, CPT. From there, make sure to have one foot in contact with the ground at all times, adds Lauren Sheu, an RRCA-certified running coach. This is actually what differentiates the movement from running, she explains. Go for about 30 minutes and you’ll have yourself a sweat-inducing workout that improves cardiovascular health.
Both power walking and running will also make you stronger. The motion of power walking recruits your core muscles for balance, your lats, pecs, and bicep muscles as you swing your arms with intention — especially if you hold weights — and you’re working your glutes and calves as you stretch and extend your hips with every step, Gray says. Running is a similarly great way to strengthen your leg muscles, says Shue, as well as your core, which engages for stability while you stride.
As for that mood boost, studies have shown that moderate to intense forms of cardio exercise is what you want for a post-exercise endorphin rush, and both power walking and running fit the bill. All of that said, there are a few important differences between power walking and running to keep in mind before lacing up your sneakers and choosing between the two.
Running Vs. Power Walking
The biggest difference between power walking and running is their intensity level. Running is considered a high-intensity workout, Sheu says, while power walking is more moderate. And with that intensity comes a greater risk of injury: Running puts a lot of strain on your joints as you pound the pavement or treadmill, while a glide-y power walk is much gentler on your knees, hips, and ankles since you’re not bouncing with every step.
That said, because it is a higher impact, weight-bearing exercise, Gray says running may be the more beneficial of the two when it comes to building stronger bones. So really, choosing between the two kinds of workouts will depend on what you’re looking for, as well as what you have to take into consideration for your body.
Power walking might be the better warmup exercise since it’s lower impact, which makes it a nifty little way to ease into any workout in general — especially if you’re looking to build up your endurance. Running, on the other hand, maybe the best fit if you want to add to your workout game, Gray says, and elevate your training. “There’s also more work for the calves and feet to do in running than power walking,” she adds, which is why running can be used as a way to improve your reflexes — something that comes in handy for agility sports.
Just looking to get some steps in? You can’t go wrong with either.
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Saanijoki, T., Tuominen, L., Tuulari, J. et al. Opioid Release after High-Intensity Interval Training in Healthy Human Subjects. Neuropsychopharmacol. 43, 246–254 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.148.
Danielle Gray, NASM, CPT, certified personal trainer
Lauren Sheu, RRCA-certified running coach