How the ‘Silly Walks’ Research Can Apply to Runners

Forget form and have some damn fun. 

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If you’ve seen the famous Monty Python “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch from 1970 then the likelihood of having Mr. Teabag’s lanky and erratic gait on repeat in your head on mention is high. It’s a high kick step, followed by a skip, repeated, four steps in a quarter squat, a reverse cross of the right foot, and back again to the high kick. Throw in some variation of walking with knees in and ankles kicked out and you’ve got it.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I’m afraid my walk has become rather sillier recently, and so it takes me rather longer to get to work,” Mr. Teabag says to a one Mr. Putey who is waiting in his office at the Ministry of Silly Walks.

This kind of inefficiency of travel is usually the opposite goal of the runner–which is to get to the destination faster.

A recent study published in The BMJ looked into, in a sense, how an inefficient method of movement, such as silly walking, can benefit one’s physical fitness. The truly silly (and tiny) study found that walking like Mr. Teabag for a mere 11 minutes per day could help adults reach the recommended amount of physical activity. As the study authors note in their intro: “global rates of physical inactivity…have not budged in the past 20 years.”

The study, which is deserving of an Ig Nobel Prize, looked at the energy expenditure of its 13 subjects walking normally, walking like Mr. Teabag, and walking like Mr. Putey (which is more of a march, pausing with one knee in the air). The results: every participant’s VO2 output was doubled during the Mr. Teabag walk versus the other walks and energy expenditure increased by 5-8 kcal/minute on average.

Will this research help the global population course-correct in meeting the recommended dose of physical activity? Probably not. There are a whole host of factors (mental, physical, emotional, social, financial) that go into why someone may not be meeting those requirements that are not addressed here.

What makes this study worthy of consideration for an audience of runners, however, is its playfulness. As the study authors note: “All participants were noticeably smiling upon removal of the facemask. Moreover, bursts of laughter from the participants were frequently noted by the supervising investigator, almost always when participants were engaging in the Teabag walk.”

So, I ask you, when was the last time you finished a run smiling? I hope the answer is often (it’s probably not always).

Unsurprisingly, studies show that enjoyment is a strong predictor of whether someone will keep up with an exercise routine. Psychologists note that novelty–either in the form of something new and simple, like incorporating a silly walk into your day as an ‘exercise snack’; or adding a more complex variety to an existing routine, like training for a new race distance – can increase enjoyment.

Four Ways You Can Make Your Next Run More Fun

If you’re not ready to channel Mr. Teabag into your run/walk routine, there are plenty of other out-of-the-box ways to add some less traditional fun into running. The following tips are inspired by pro runners who seriously know how to make running fun.

Collect change. Buy yourself something nice

For years Brittany Charboneau has collected change she sees on the ground while out on her training runs – proudly posting her spoils on Instagram. In 2022, she found $49.57 worth of filthy street coins. “Finding change on my runs is proof that the little things do add up, that you can make money as a runner, and that I’m on the right path,” she wrote.

See how much change you can find. Enough to buy yourself a post-run coffee? Or a new pair of running shoes? Hit the roads to earn a pretty penny.

Create your own running challenge. Just for the heck of it.

Run streaks have been around since the dawn of time, but in recent history runners have found other unique ways to challenge themselves, especially when races were canceled in 2020. Des Linden went all Destober, running a mile corresponding to each day of the month in October 2020 (496 in total), inspired by Calendar Club challenges.

You can create your own version using Linden’s suggested modifications:

  1. Run all the miles! ⁣
  2. Swap miles for kilometers ⁣
  3. Swap the miles for minutes ⁣
  4. Get a team together and share the daily miles to get to the daily total. ⁣
  5. Commit to doing 31 days of running in a row and don’t worry how long or far you go⁣
  6. Swap the running and do a different physical activity – bike ride, core routine, pushups, planks

Get silly with your training log

The workout may have been brutal, but that doesn’t mean your training journal has to be all business. It’s your space (whether virtual or on paper) to let out all the pent up emotions and maybe laugh at yourself a bit. Doodle. Rank your workouts based on your favorite or least favorite Nicholas Cage movies. Give yourself a cryptic anonymous signoff like you just wrote into an advice column.

Keira D’amato titles each of her workouts on Strava with a corny joke. The routine started with the jokes on her kids’ popsicle sticks. She wanted to bring that levity to her Strava. Her followers now send her jokes to post. “Every time I receive a joke my first thought is: I’m doing something right in this world. Something made someone laugh and they thought, Keira would like this too. Not a bad thing to be known for,” she wrote on her Instagram.

Put on some glitter and get out there

In the words of Alexi Pappas who has run her fair share of races glittered up: “as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, be open minded, support one another, wear & do what makes you happy & live a big beautiful life.”

Maybe throw in a silly walk when you’re feeling stuck in the routine of it all.

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