Ask the Coach: The Long and Tedious Walk-Run Progression

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After injury, do you really have to follow the long and tedious “return-to-running” program that we all know and hate—the walk-run progression?

—Amelia Boone, San Jose, CA

There are two inter-related goals when returning from injury. The first is to make sure the injury is adequately healed and no further damage is done. The second is to strengthen all the little muscles, tendons and even bones that may have weakened during the time off.

Top coach Ian Sharman cautions against rushing back. “First, there’s a transition from low-impact cross training like water running, swimming, cycling and using an elliptical, then finally to walking,” he says. (See Ask the Coach, Issue 113, July 2016.) “Always be flexible with how your body actually responds, not just how you want it to respond.”

Once you feel no pain when walking, ease into jogging. To avoid over-stressing the injury site, Sharman recommends doing these initial runs on flat ground.

If you have been off four or more weeks because of a serious injury like a stress fracture or muscle tear, walk-run is the safest way to go. After warming up with a brisk walk, do 5 x 30 seconds jogging, with 90 seconds of walking in between. The next day, do 10 walk-run intervals. Take a rest day, then do 15, then 20, then rest again.

Assuming no setbacks, progress into continuous running (you can start here if your injury lasted only two to four weeks). On day one, start with 30 minutes of brisk walking as a warm-up, followed by a five-minute jog. On day two, jog 10 minutes. Rest on day three, then jog 15 minutes on day four and 20 minutes on day five, and rest on day six.

Then, assuming there’s no pain, do short runs of 30 minutes or less daily for a week. The following week, return to 50 to 75 percent of your usual mileage, and work up from there. (If your injury sidelined you for less than two weeks, start with this phase.)

This article originally appeared in our October 2016 issue.

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