Taking a break on a run isn't a bad thing, but you'd be forgiven for feeling that way from time to time. Look, no one is more relieved than I am to see that blessed red crosswalk signal, often the only thing that can force me to slow down and catch my breath when I'm out for a run. Yet, I can never shake the feeling that taking a break feels like I "failed," like if I was more fit/strong/determined, I wouldn't have had to stop. It doesn't help that taking breaks really can affect the outcome of your run, causing muscles to tighten up or just throwing off your rhythm.
None of that should make you turn up your nose at taking a breather. According to Sander Rubin, MD, sports medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine, runners (and especially new runners) shouldn't buy into any stigma around taking breaks — quite the opposite. "Focus on the overall time that you're exercising and improving your aerobic conditioning," he told POPSUGAR. "If you need to take breaks, that's totally fine." He explained that if stopping here and there to catch your breath will allow you to run for longer (which it likely will), the benefits outweigh any negatives. "The amount of overall time spent running is often more important than the speed or the distance of a workout," Dr. Rubin said. "If taking a break allows you to run longer, in the end game, you're going to be burning more calories and improving your heart-lung function aerobic capacity."
While short, fast runs definitely have their place, especially in terms of weight loss, "slow" runs and runs peppered with breaks can still help you reach your fitness goals. "Studies have shown that if your run is even 50 to 70 percent of your VO2 max — so, not going all out — that will still improve your heart and lung function and burn calories," Dr. Rubin explained.
Taking breaks can also reduce your risk of getting hurt. That's not always the top concern when your focus is weight loss or improving endurance, but staying healthy is going to be vital if you want to achieve those goals. Going out more slowly and letting your body rest from time to time can help you avoid injury by putting less strain on your muscles, tendons, and joints, Dr. Rubin told POPSUGAR.
It's true, though, that frequent full stops can cause your muscles to tighten up and throw you out of sync, both physically and mentally. If you're starting to feel tired, Dr. Rubin recommended walking instead of stopping completely. Maintaining some movement will aid your circulation, and from a mental standpoint, you'll feel more confident if you're still moving forward. To avoid stiffening up, he said, aim to take shorter, more frequent walking breaks, around 60 to 90 seconds, rather than longer ones.
The next time you're beating yourself up for taking a break, remember that it's not actually working against your goals, and it definitely doesn't mean that you're weak, just as taking rest days doesn't mean you won't get in shape. If stopping to walk for a minute means you'll be able to fit in one last mile, then taking that breather is completely worth it.