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Ease into running with a walk/run program

If starting a running program is intimidating to you, try doing a walk/run program instead

With gyms and other recreational facilities closed, more people than ever before are braving the cold and heading out for a run. Here at Canadian Running, we are of course ecstatic to see so many people hitting the streets, but we understand that for some, running can be intimidating. If you’re thinking of starting a running routine but the thought of running for even five minutes without a break is giving you nightmare-inducing flashbacks to doing laps in high school gym class, we’ve got a solution for you: the walk/run.

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The walk/run is by no means new or revolutionary, but it is a tried-and-true method for easing even the most reluctant exercisers into a running routine. For the uninitiated, the basic idea is that you add short intervals of running between longer intervals of walking. Gradually, you shorten the walking segments and lengthen the runs, until you’re running without breaks. Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.

The best part is, this is highly adaptable to the individual, so you can make the running and walking intervals as short or as long as you like, and you can increase your running as gradually as you wish. The goal of most walk/run programs is to get you running for 20 to 30 minutes by the time you complete the program, so ideally your total walk/run time should equal that goal amount right from the beginning.

If you’re not sure how long or short your running intervals should be, try starting with just one minute. In practice, that would look like this:

Walk for five minutes and run for one minute, repeating this process five times for a total time of 30 minutes. Try doing this two or three times in one week. If that felt challenging, you can stay with this pattern for a couple of weeks until you feel ready to add more running. You don’t need a high-tech watch to do this, either — a simple stopwatch will be just fine, or even the timer on your phone will do the trick.

From there, you have options. You can choose to increase your running interval to two minutes and decrease your walking interval to four, repeating this process five times until you reach 30 minutes total. If you feel you still want five minutes of recovery time, you could walk for five minutes and run for two minutes until you reach a total time of 35 minutes. The following week you can then try reducing your walking time to four minutes, leaving your running time at two minutes.

Here’s one example of a 16-week walk/run plan:

  • Week 1: 5 min walk/1 min run x 5 = 30 minutes total
  • Week 2: 5 min walk/2 min run x 5 = 35 minutes total
  • Week 3: 4 min walk/2 min run x 5 = 30 minutes total
  • Week 4: 4 min walk/3 min run x 5 = 35 minutes total
  • Week 5: 3 min walk/3 min run x 5 = 30 minutes total
  • Week 6: 3 min walk/4 min run x 5 = 35 minutes total
  • Week 7: 2 min walk/4 min run x 5  30 minutes total
  • Week 8: 2 min walk/ 5 min run x 5 = 35 minutes total
  • Week 9: 1 min walk / 5 min run x 5 = 30 minutes total
  • Week 10: 1 min walk/ 6 min run x 5 = 35 minutes total
  • Week 11: 1 min walk / 8 min run x 3 = 27 minutes total
  • Week 12: 1 min walk/ 10 min run x 3 = 33 minutes total
  • Week 13: 15 min run / 5 min walk / 15 min run = 35 minutes total
  • Week 14: 15 min run / 3 min walk / 15 min run = 33 minutes total
  • Week 15: 20 min run /2 min walk / 10 min run = 32 minutes total
  • Week 16: 30-minute run

This program is very gradual, and you may find that you can speed it up by starting at a later week, or skipping some of the weeks, particularly as you get better at running. You also have the option of slowing it down by spending more than one week at each stage if you feel you need to. The most important thing here is that you take it at your own pace to avoid overdoing it and burning yourself out or getting injured. Consistency is also important, so you should try your best to put in a session at least twice a week. If you end up missing a week or two for whatever reason, don’t worry — simply pick up where you left off, or back it up a week or two to get yourself back in the swing of it.

Starting a new running program can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. A walk/run program like this can ease you into it without overwhelming you, and build your fitness up gradually so you can feel strong and confident on the run.

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