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Don’t Shun the Run-Walk Method

Alternating running and walking is nothing to be ashamed of—it's a great way to build fitness and prevent injury.

Photo: Getty Images

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Many new runners don’t feel that “real runners” respect them if they aren’t running the entire distance. When implemented correctly, however, alternating running and walking is an effective training method that can help you increase your fitness faster, with less chance of injury.

Even more advanced runners can benefit from walking breaks to recover from hard workouts and return from injury with less chance of relapse. As a new or experienced runner, you shouldn’t be ashamed of utilizing the run-walk method.

Advantages for New Runners

For beginner runners, the run-walk method allows you to exercise for a longer period of time each session. This increases your aerobic capabilities more rapidly, burns more calories, and reduces your risk of injury.

Most beginner runners struggle to run more than 1 to 3 miles at a time—at most. As such, their time spent running is typically only 15–30 minutes per session. From research, however, we know that aerobic development peaks between 30–90 minutes of exercise. Therefore, any training method beginners can implement to increase their exercise time in the early stages of their training will help them develop more rapidly.

Breaking down a training run into a run-walk session provides new runners with the ability to recover their breathing and gives their muscles a rest. This can help them extend their training sessions beyond 30 minutes, while also making it less difficult on the body. Not only does this help increase fitness, but it reduces the likelihood of injury since they are not stressing the structural system beyond its capabilities; and people tend to run more efficiently when not fatigued and going at a comfortable pace.

Furthermore, studies have shown that there is only a small difference between the number of calories burned while running easy and the number of calories burned at a brisk walk. When you factor in the fact that the run-walk method allows a runner to almost double or triple their time spent exercising, new runners are able to burn more calories than they would by running alone.

To run-walk, simply run for as long as it feels comfortable, then walk for a while until you’re ready to run again. Or you can use a time ratio such as 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking—to keep yourself honest. Gradually increase the time running as you feel comfortable and can do so smoothly.

Why Transition Away?

Eventually, beginner runners will get to the point where they no longer need walk breaks to extend their run beyond the 30- to 45-minute mark. When this happens, it’s generally better for fitness progression to run the entire way since running stresses the aerobic system to a greater degree.

Furthermore, as runners become more experienced, they tend to develop specific race time goals, like breaking 30 minutes for the 5K. The fitter you become and the higher you set your goals, the harder you will need to train to attain them. Reaching faster time goals will generally require running for the entire race distance. As such, preparing for this during training is important.

Woman run/walking on a sidewalk
Photo: Unsplash

How to Transition

Transitioning off a run-walk is pretty simple. Slowly increase your run-to-walk ratio each week while keeping the total time exercising the same.

For example, if you’re comfortable run-walking at a ratio of 6-to-4 (6 minutes running, 4 minutes walking), you can transition to 7-to-3 (7 minutes running, 3 minutes walking). Once this feels comfortable, you can increase to 8-to-2 or 8-to-3, whichever feels more comfortable.

Once you’re comfortable in the 8- to 9-minute run and 1- to 2-minute walk ratio, the next step is to break your run into larger run-walk segments, such as 20-minute run, 2-minute walk. This is a transitional step to prevent injury so you don’t immediately go from run-walk to 60 minutes of running.

I also recommend keeping one longer run at a run-walk for three to four weeks as you transition to running only. This will enable you to increase your long run distance and tolerance without placing additional stress on your structural system (muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones).

When to Keep Using Walk Breaks

Many runners who have transitioned to steady running are too stubborn or proud to see the value in the run-walk method at certain times in their training. However, when used effectively, it can be smart way to enhance recovery and prevent injury.

Run Recovery

I have found the run-walk method to be helpful in reducing soreness and injury potential after hard workouts.

Most runners are mileage hounds, even when we’re well aware that the purpose of a recovery run is to facilitate recovery. Stubbornly, most runners will continue with the distance scheduled for the day, and try to hit a “respectable” pace, regardless of how tired it’s making them. I know I have felt absolutely thrashed during a recovery day and yet didn’t back off the distance—or the pace.

Implementing a run-walk, even if it’s as simple as a 1-minute break every 10–15 minutes, can dramatically reduce the stress on your structural system and help keep a recovery run a real recovery run. It may be a hit to the ego for some, but I’ll trade a smart implementation of the run-walk on a recovery run if it means I can workout harder and race faster down the road.

Injury Recovery

I recommend all runners returning from a difficult injury utilize the run-walk method. If you were laid up for more than a couple of weeks or if the injury is particularly troublesome, the run-walk method can prevent re-injury and help you transition back to normal training faster.

When returning from a difficult or persistent injury, the injured area is likely to be sensitive and prone to re-injury. Moreover, you’ll likely compensate for weaknesses or pain by limping or firing other muscle groups to take pressure off the injured area—often without realizing it. You could potentially be stressing other areas of your body to compensate and set of a chain of injuries.

Implementing a run-walk will help take pressure off your structural system while enabling you to get out and run for a greater total time while transitioning back to normal training.

As with any specific training method, learn to think creatively rather than listening to those who only see one way of accomplishing a goal. When used correctly, the run-walk method can be a critical tool in the hands of both beginner and experienced runners alike.


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