By Circle Editorial Team

Asian Slow Jogging

What is Niko Niko Running?

In Japanese, “niko niko” means “smile”. In layman terms, it is basically slow jogging at a walking pace, at an intensity light enough to enjoy conversation or, if by yourself, to just smile.

To many, the Niko Niko Running is a foreign concept that makes no sense. After all, we live in a society that is obsessed with speed and efficiency - a huge contributing factor as to why the short but effective Tabata has dominated the fitness landscape as a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). As an anti-thesis to the “No Pain, No Gain” mentality, Niko Niko Running goes against everything we have been conditioned into believing about fitness.


Human Evolution

However, it makes sense for the human body to respond favorably to super-low intensity exercise. Dr Hiroaki Tanka, pioneer of this Japanese concept, explains that it is an evolutionary trait in his book (Slow Jogging, 2016).

“Humans are the best distance runners in the animal world….Up until ten thousand years ago, humans mainly got their food b hunting with their bare hands. There are still tribes in Africa living as hunters and gatherers. Research shows, that every day, they first walk for close to twenty miles until they find prey, and then chase it for three to five hours at a speed of around six miles per hour…When done correctly, slow jogging is similar to how our ancestors used to cover miles without getting tired. How is that possible? The answer lies in physiology , especially of muscles.”

Running at a Niko Niko pace activates the largest amount of our endurant and fatigue-resistant ‘slow-twitch’ muscle fibres. Since it doesn’t work much of the less tireless “fast-twitch” muscles, this allows one to run for prolonged periods of time without feeling tired.


The Niko Niko Pace

So what exactly is the Niko Niko Pace?

It is an intensity of running that occurs at a heart rate of around 138 minus your half your age. For example, if you are a quinquagenarian, your target heart rate would be around 113 bpm (138-25).

Physiologically speaking, the Niko Niko Pace is at a Goldilocks point where:

  • The stroke volume of the heart (volume of blood pumped per heartbeat) is the largest
  • Lipid metabolism (fat) is at its highest
  • Catecholamine accumulation begins (an indicator that the stress response is just beginning – allowing for training adaptations to happen)

In Japan, 180 minutes of slow jogging per week has been shown to deliver positive impacts on metabolic syndromes, high blood pressure, as well as increasing”good” cholesterol. Plus, it also provides better post-exercise effects, such as reducing anxiety and pain, or even improving one’s sense of calm and well-being.


The Challenge

The challenge lies in maintaining that Niko Niko Pace. Even beginners can find it difficult to slow jog faster than walking speed without exceeding that heart rate cap. For seasoned runners, this can be a blow to their ego.

Niko Niko Running can also lead to some initial soreness. This is because one is heavily working the slow-twitch fibres that are likely to have been left under stimulated by the more mainstream medium and high intensity running. Practitioners are also not able to “cheat” through utilizing the aforementioned anaerobic system. This forces the runner to re-adapt to their long neglected and underdeveloped main engine, along with all of its limitations.

Fortunately, experienced runners, especially the avid marathoner, can run impressive paces even at the Niko Niko intensity.



Sold on the beneficial effects of Niko Niko Running? Here are some of the important pointers to look out for when slow jogging:


  1. Keep your steps short
  2. Keep your back straight
  3. Relax your shoulders. Your arms should move naturally
  4. Breathe naturally
  5. Keep your head up and look at the road ahead
  6. Land consciously on your forefoot
  7. Do not kick the ground


A good indicator to check if you are doing it correctly is to see if you can conduct a conversation while slow jogging. If you are unable to do so, you are running too fast!


Overall, the activity is fantastic for just about every age group. For seniors, the super low intensity makes it a great exercise to pick up. For the fitter and/or younger individuals, it serves as an outstanding recovery option that one can slot between intense workout days.


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