Brad Spokes

What you need to know about run-walk programs

If you’re new to running — or coming back to the sport after injury, illness or other break — one of the safest ways to start is by diving into a run-walk program.

This week, the Brainsport Times spoke with Brad Spokes of ZONE Sports Physiotherapy about what a run-walk program is and who can benefit from such a program.

What is a run-walk program?

A run-walk program allows you to log kilometers through intermittent bouts of running and walking.

A run-walk program can be highly individualized. A beginner program may start with anywhere from a 10-to-30-minute block of 30 seconds of running with 30 seconds of walking. More advanced run-walk programs can involve longer interval running blocks (four to 15 minutes) with one minute of walking between intervals.

What are the benefits of a run-walk program?

Even most sedentary people may have the adequate cardiovascular fitness to run continuously for 20 or 30 minutes their first time out, but it is their musculoskeletal system — their bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia — that need about eight weeks of conditioning to build up the resiliency to be able to handle the impact loads associated with running. A run-walk program helps you progressively build up your musculoskeletal system over time to tolerate more load, which ultimately helps reduce the risk of injury.

“One of the biggest advantages of the walk segment is breaking up the impact on your muscles into smaller bite-sized pieces. This reduces the musculoskeletal strain on your system compared to continuous running and may allow to run longer at the exact same pace, which is key,” Spokes says.

The program can also make running mentally easier.

“Everything becomes more manageable knowing that you only need to run for short time period before you have earned a bit of recovery,” Spokes says. “This allows people to stretch out the duration of their runs so they can reap some of the aerobic benefits of a longer workout.”

How hard should the runs be?

This is not a classical hard training session. Therefore, runs should be done at a conversational pace.

“If you were running with your best friends, you should be able to hold a full conversation without broken sentences,” Spokes says.

How long should the walks be relative to the runs?

Walk breaks should range between 30 seconds to one minute, while run times can range more widely (typically between 30 seconds to 15 minutes).

“We typically recommend that people try not to utilize walk breaks longer than a minute as it sometimes it gets harder to mentally start again if that break is too long,” Spokes says.

What does progress look like?

When you feel comfortable at a certain run-walk ratio you can start to gradually add time to the run intervals while keeping the walk intervals to increase the total amount of time on your feet. How you choose to progress depends on your goals or guidance from your health-care provider if you are injured.

“If you’re performance oriented and want to be faster over a certain distance you might find that continuous running is ultimately faster than a run-walk program,” Spokes says. “But if you’re running for health and wellness, run-walk might be something to consider continuing long term.”

You may find that using a run-walk program is the fastest way to cover a certain distance in a race such as a half marathon, marathon or IronMan event. Some races even have designated pace bunnies for runners on run-walk plans.

What is a common mistake people make when going out on a run-walk?

Starting into running without a structured plan.

“If you’re going to utilize the run-walk strategy, utilize it from the word Go in your running and don’t wait until you need to walk,” Spokes cautions. “Once you need to walk — if you’ve been running for awhile — you are already accumulating fatigue and that’s where the walk breaks will start to get extended because your brain and your muscles are looking for an opportunity to take a rest.”

How do I find a run-walk program that’s right for me?

Basic programs can be found online or through programs like Garmin Coach for free. However, the most effective program will be designed specifically for you. If you want to embark on a run-walk program consider connecting with a coach, trainer or physiotherapist for help.