How to Use the Run Walk Method

3 women walk together in a park

If you run, you are a runner...no matter how many walking breaks you take. In fact, the run-walk-run method is actually a secret weapon for runners of all ability levels, not just beginners.

What is the Run Walk Method?

The run-walk-run method is exactly what it sounds like. You run for a period of time and follow it up with a walking break. However, this “break” is not complete rest. Instead, it’s a form of active recovery.

The run-walk-run method allows beginners to run farther, which exponentially increases the fitness benefits of the workout. This technique can also be used by experienced runners, allowing for longer periods at a more intense effort.

The creation of the run-walk-run method is attributed to Jeff Galloway, who created the program in 1974. Galloway introduced the method to his class of non-runner and beginner runners, and quickly found it was the ideal way to increase fitness while minimizing injury risk.

How to do the Run Walk Method

A man checks his watch before beginning a walk run interval

First, find your baseline.

The best place to start is by using what Galloway calls the “Magic Mile,” which is a workout designed to help you determine your goal race paces and also your work-to-rest ratio for your run/walk intervals. To perform the “Magic Mile” you:

  1. Warm up with a slow, one-mile run.
  2. Perform a few accelerations or strides.
  3. Run a mile at a hard effort as evenly paced as possible (you should finish feeling that you could not have maintained the same pace for another 100 yards)
  4. Walk for five minutes to recover
  5. Take your mile time and use it to predict your race pace and corresponding run walk strategy and ratio. Galloway’s website includes a“Magic Mile” calculator for this purpose.

Different athletes will use different intervals and run/walk ratios in order to optimize the effectiveness of the method. You also don’t necessarily need to perform a “Magic Mile” to start enjoying the benefits.

Simply use the basic principles behind the interval method, and adapt it to fit your needs using these example workouts:

Run-walk workout for beginner athletes

Beginners can use the work-to-rest ratio principle and adjust as you gain fitness. The time-based approach is best for beginners and novice runners. A 1:1 work-to-rest ratio is a good place to start, which means you run for as long as you feel comfortable, then walk for the same amount of time.

If you’re new to running, start with short blocks of time like one minute on and one minute off. As you get more accustomed to running, you can manipulate the ratio. You can even change the ratio throughout the workout such as:

  • 1 minute running, 5 minutes walking
  • 2 minutes running, 4 minutes walking
  • 3 minutes running, 3 minutes walking
  • 4 minutes running, 2 minutes walking
  • 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking

Run-walk workout for intermediate athletes

Intermediate runners should use a heart rate-based approach, because it takes into account not only environmental conditions but also the fitness levels of each athlete.

A typical relaxed run shouldn’t be higher than 80% of your maximum heart rate. A run-walk-run workout for an intermediate athlete using the heart rate approach would be:

  • Run at a relaxed pace until your heart rate gets higher than 80% of maximum
  • Walk until your heart rate drops to 60% of maximum or lower
  • Run again until your heart rate exceeds 80% of max
  • Repeat as necessary

Run-walk workout for experienced athletes

Experienced runners can use either the time-based or heart rate-based approach, OR implement a distance-based approach as the main variable. This is a great method to use if you are tuning up for a race where you have a goal finish time. A sample workout for a half-marathoner using this approach is:

  • Run one mile a bit faster than race pace, then walk briskly for a quarter-mile
  • Repeat this cycle eight times, for a total ten-mile training run

Keep in mind these examples are not Galloway-specific, as the Galloway method is a little more nuanced. The general idea is simply to use the run/walk method as a way to more thoroughly enjoy your workouts and training runs, help mitigate injury risk and even get faster overall at the same time!

Why Run Walk?

Two runners exercising on a path

The run-walk-run method is a useful tool for runners of all ages and ability levels. Although it is most popular with beginner runners, even experienced marathoners embrace the method and tout its ability to produce faster race times with fewer injuries and less overall fatigue.

Athletes looking to perform at a high level can also see positive results from incorporating this method into their training program.

The run-walk-run method offers benefits that run the spectrum from physiological to psychological.

Save energy to go farther

Running continuously causes fatigue, but tapping into regular intervals of active recovery throughout your workout allows you to conserve energy. Walking breaks allow working muscles to remove the metabolic waste that is a byproduct of exercise and makes you feel tired and sore. You will also allow your heart rate to drop, and “reset” your energy systems so you can start the next running interval feeling fresh.

Prevent injury

By inserting walking breaks into your runs you distribute the workload to different muscle groups by changing the mechanics of the gait cycle. This variety reduces the amount of repetitive stress on your body, thereby lowering your chance of injury. Running is by nature an impact-oriented, repetitive movement. This means that without variety, there is excessive stress on certain parts of your body. Some runners feel it in their lower back, and others in their knees, hips or ankles. The redistribution of total workload can help prevent the wear and tear on your body.

Recover faster

Movement is the way your body recovers from a workout. The muscle contractions help to promote blood flow, which in turn helps to flush metabolic waste and tamp down inflammation. A casual post-run walk is a good way to kick-start recovery, but an even better way is to get a head start by taking short walk breaks during the run.

Finish faster

It seems to defy logic that incorporating walking breaks into your race can improve your overall time, but it’s true. According to Galloway, half-marathon runners can improve their time by 7 minutes and full marathoners by more than 13 minutes by reducing overall fatigue throughout the race.

Feel more controlled

If you have ever felt like your run was in control of you, rather than you being in control of your run, the run/walk method can help put you back in the driver’s seat. This is due to the fact that there is a significant mental component to the method.

By incorporating walk breaks into your runs, you are not just giving your body a break and a chance to recuperate––you are also providing your brain with the opportunity to enjoy the endorphins produced when you run. You’re also breaking up a long distance into smaller, more manageable units and giving yourself the ability to manage and navigate any stiffness, soreness or fatigue that might accumulate.

It can be tough to wrap your brain around including walking into your runs, since many runners may feel like they have “failed” if they are forced to slow down and walk during their workout. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the run/walk method, it’s important to retrain your brain and hardwire new patterns.

By Timothy Lyman. Timothy Lyman is the Head Coach and Director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and a Performance Enhancement Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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