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360 YOU: When You Should Use the Run Walk Method

360 YOU pro mentor Mary Cain explains why it's not just for beginners.

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It’s true that you must walk before you can run, but alternating between the two is a better way to really ease into running. Run-walking may be something you naturally gravitated toward when you first started running without even knowing you were engaging in an actual training method.

The run walk method was first popularized by the Olympic runner Jeff Galloway in the 1970s. It’s sometimes referred to as the Galloway Method. The idea is to take regular walking or shuffling breaks in between running intervals as a way to build up your body’s tolerance to the new movement, reduce injury risk, and conserve energy.

Even though it sounds simple, in practice, the run walk method can still be intimidating to newcomers. “Walk runs can be very scary for people,” says 360 YOU pro mentor Mary Cain. “If you’re a beginner, there’s this kind of like, ‘Oh my god, I thought that one minute was really hard and I needed that one minute walk. How am I ever going to run two minutes straight or three minutes straight?'”

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The run walk method does indeed build endurance in new runners. It will also enable you to run longer by sharing the workload between the different leg muscles used for walking and running and giving those muscles a break before they are fatigued. “There’s a really, really powerful biological process happening to help you learn to adapt your body,” says Cain.

Even as a professional runner, Cain is no stranger to the run walk method, using it any time she’s come back from an injury. “Nobody is above that on their build back into running,” she says. “I’ve been there. And there’s always that moment where you’re like, ‘I have baby giraffe legs. What has happened?'”

When the Run Walk Method Might Benefit You

“Walking is one of those things where, at times, can be seen as very negative,” says Cain. And it doesn’t have to be. It also doesn’t have to be a training tool only for beginners. Any runner can add it into their workout plan.

Cain adds the caveat that it should be a purposeful part of your training: “Of course, if you’re somebody who as soon as it gets hard you just stop and start walking, that’s not the best thing to do.”

Here are a handful of times a run walk can benefit even seasoned runners.

If you’re coming back from an injury, postpartum, or any time off.

If you’ve taken time off from running and you’re just getting back into it, you’ll notice that your endurance is not what it was when you were training regularly. You might be having some of the same questions and fears beginner runners have. ‘If running for one minute before taking a walk break was hard, how am I ever going to get back to my old level of fitness?’ But Cain assures, “It does end up happening. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to do the run walks.”

As you’ve been cleared to return to running, adding in walking breaks can also be helpful to work through small flare ups or tired spots so you’re not re-injuring yourself.

If you’re going up in distances.

You’ve successfully completed your first 5K and you’re ready to continue your journey into longer distances. Going back to the run walk mindset that got you to that first milestone can also get you to the next. Cain recommends taking a couple minutes to walk when you begin to feel tired, then trying to run 10 more minutes before walking again. “That can almost help you push through those tired spots,” she says.

If you’re not nailing your workout.

You know those easy runs that you just can’t seem to keep easy? If you’re feeling like you have no ability to slow yourself down, Cain suggests stopping and walking for a few minutes. Shake out your body. And try again.

Or vice versa. Maybe it’s a hard workout and you can’t seem to hit your times. “Just take a little breather,” says Cain. Again, shake it out. Give yourself a pep talk and start fresh. “See if you’re feeling better. And if you’re not, that’s totally fine. Adjust the workout. But sometimes that little break and that little kickstart can be the thing you need to get back into the level you should be for the day,” she says.

RELATED: How to Run a Mile Like an Olympian

Tips for Nailing It from a Run Walk Expert

Mary Cain gives us four pillars to getting the most out of the run walk method, which is utilized in the 360 YOU beginner 5K training plan.

  • Never feel embarrassed about it. There is no shame in taking a walking break. As we’ve learned it can be a necessary part of your training, especially in preventing injury from overtraining. Don’t let a perception push you farther than you should go. Even professionals utilize the run walk method at points in their training. “Insert any of your favorite runners, they’ve been there,” says Cain.
  • Be patient. “Give yourself that time,” says Cain. “If you’re kind of on the comeback and you’ve taken a long break, and you’re tempted to dive right into just running straight, do your run walk. Respect the process. Respect that time.”
  • Enjoy this time. It’s going to be one with a lot of growth that will ultimately feel triumphant. “It should be a fun time to really watch the growth and go, ‘Whoa. I went from being able to do 10 of these to 20!’ That’s progress,” says Cain.
  • Have a plan. There’s a fine line between using walking as a physical or mental training tool and walking because you’re over the workout, says Cain. One way to avoid that trap is to make a deliberate plan. “By having a program and saying, ‘I know I will walk every 20 minutes for two minutes,’ or something like that, that can be the most helpful way to do it,” she says.

No matter who you are, rest-assured that the run walk method is serving you, baby giraffe legs and all.

RELATED: 5K Training Notes for Week 2

This article is part of our three-month 360 YOU program, available free to Women’s Running members. Find out what the program is all about here or head to the collection page to dive into the available training and inspirational content.