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Turn Your Walk into a Run

Want to shake up your walking routine? Take it up a notch by increasing your speed. Follow our expert tips and 12-week plan for staying motivated and injury-free while transitioning to running.

By Cindy Atoji

Why Walk When You Can Run?

If you're a regular walker looking to ramp up your workout, easing into running could be the right move for you. "Running is a more efficient way to achieve a higher level of fitness," says athletic trainer Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. "You can accomplish more in less exercise time." Simply put, runners burn more calories than walkers, mile for mile. Since you're working your heart and muscles harder, your aerobic fitness improves. Plus, studies have found that running lowers the risk of coronary heart disease and reduces blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels.

How to Start

Get the go-ahead from your doctor and invest in running shoes. Look for good cushioning, support, breathability, and traction; specialty running stores have pros who can fit you with a pair and give you a test run on a treadmill. Before hitting the pavement, remember three keys to running success: Ease into the transition, set goals, and track your progress to stay motivated.

Gradually Up Your Endurance

Even if you're a super-walker, expecting to go from 30 minutes of strolling to running for the same amount of time is probably not doable. Results don't come overnight; be patient and plan to progress slowly but steadily. "Endurance is the result of moderate or higher levels of aerobic exercise over time," says Reiff. "Increasing the duration of your run or walk is the key element to building endurance." Walking or running one mile or 10 minutes more a week, exercising more frequently, or working a bit harder are all ways to build stamina.

Making a gradual transition also prevents wear and tear on your body. Former Olympic runner Jeff Galloway has coached more than 200,000 walkers and runners, and he tells them to "train, don't strain." What's the difference? "Those who increase mileage too fast or push into stress as noted by huffing or puffing often get burnt out," said Galloway. In fact, most running coaches advise beginners to do no more than two to three running days a week. Instead, to avoid injury, follow a sensible training plan, always warm up, and go at your own pace—there's no need to compare yourself to others.

How to Stay Motivated

There's another reason you should expect to improve gradually over time: Research shows that exercisers who set reasonable goals are more likely to stick to their programs. "If you've never run before, and you set the goal of running two miles in one week, you'll probably fail," says Michele Olson, PhD, a researcher at the Human Performance Laboratory at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. Planning to run for five minutes without walking is more realistic. "Set goals you can always win, and you'll be naturally motivated to move forward," says Olson. (See our plan on page 6.) Other winning tips: Track your progress, whether it's in an old-fashioned journal or a new online tracker such as MapMyRun.com. And get support from friends and family. They can keep you accountable to your goals or exercise with you. Having a trainer or coach is also bound to help you stick to your workout on days when you need a little extra push.

Road Races: An Achievable Goal

After working on running for four to five months, you may want to try a road race, such as a 5K (3.1 miles). Finishing a race is another doable goal and a way to prove your success in turning a walk into a run. According to Galloway, who champions the idea of "walk breaks" during long runs, says "Community races are fun, energizing, and motivate one to get out there."

A Walk-Run Success Story

When Clara Silverstein turned 40, she wanted to realize her dream of running a marathon. But she had never been much of a runner, and her first attempts were more difficult than she imagined. "I was so sore and winded, I almost gave up," says Silverstein. Instead, she adjusted her expectations and eased into running. "Forget about running a mile on your first outing," she says. "Walk first to warm up, then run for five minutes or less. Running is not going to feel natural at first because you need to give your body time to adjust." Over the weeks, she alternated walking and running during the same workout, until about two months later, when she could run 30 minutes without feeling winded. In 2008, seven years later, she accomplished her goal: Silverstein ran her first marathon in Richmond, Virginia. Today, the busy cookbook author and mom runs two to three times a week, but walks once or twice a week as well. "I never could have even considered running without being a regular walker first," she says.

Our 12-Week Walking to Running Plan

If you're an avid walker, you can make the transition to jogging or running by following this progressive program, designed by Olson. The plan will train you to jog or run for 30 minutes over a distance of about 2.5 miles at the end of week 12. At the start of every workout, walk briskly for the first 5 minutes.

Week 1            

Mon.
Jog/Run 1 minute
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 7 times

Tues.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Wed.
Jog/Run 1 minute
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 7 times

Thurs.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Fri.
Jog/Run 1 minute
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 7 times

Sat.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Sun.
Day Off

Week 2            

Mon.
Jog/Run 2 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 6 times

Tues.
Walk 20-30 minutes 

Wed.
Jog/Run 2 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 6 times

Thurs.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Fri.
Jog/Run 2 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 6 times

Sat.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Sun.
Day Off

Week 3            

Mon.
Jog/Run 3 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Tues.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Wed.
Jog/Run 3 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Thurs.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Fri.
Jog/Run 3 minutes
Walk 3 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Sat.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Sun
Day Off

Week 4            

Mon.
Jog/Run 4 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Tues.
Walk 20-30 minutes 

Wed.
Jog/Run 4 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Thurs.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Fri.
Jog/Run 4 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat 5 times

Sat.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Sun.
Day Off

Week 5            

Mon.
Jog/Run 5 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Tues.
Day Off

Wed.
Jog/Run 5 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Thurs.
Walk 15 minutes
Jog 5 minutes
Repeat

Fri.
Jog/Run 5 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Sat.
Day Off

Sun.
Walk 15 minutes
Jog 5 minutes
Repeat

Week 6            

Mon.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Tues.
Day Off

Wed.
Walk 10 minutes
Jog 6 minutes
Repeat

Thurs.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Fri.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 5 times

Sat.
Day Off

Sun.
Walk 10 minutes
Jog 6 minutes
Repeat

Week 7            

Mon.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Tues.
Walk 20-30 minutes

Wed.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Thurs.
Walk 5 minutes
Jog 5 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Fri.
Day Off

Sat.
Jog/Run 6 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Sun.
Walk 5 minutes
Jog 5 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Week 8            

Mon.
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 8 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat

Tues.
Walk 3 minutes
Jog 8 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Wed.
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 8 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat

Thurs.
Day Off

Fri.
Jog/Run 7 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 5 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat

Sat.
Walk 3 minutes
Jog 8 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Sun.
Walk 2 minutes
Jog 8 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Week 9            

Mon.
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Tues.
Day Off

Wed.
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Thurs.

Walk 2 minutes

Jog 9 minutes

Repeat 3 times

Fri.
Day Off

Sat.
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 9 minutes
Walk 2 minutes
Repeat

Sun.
Walk 2 minutes
Jog 9 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Week 10            

Mon.
Jog/Run 10 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat 3 times

Tues.
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 10 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog/Run 10 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog/Run 10 minutes

Wed.
Day Off

Thurs.
Jog/Run 10 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Repeat 3 times

Fri.
Walk 30 seconds
Jog 10 minutes

Repeat 3 times

Sat.
Day Off

Sun.
Walk 30 seconds
Jog 10 minutes
Repeat 3 times

Week 11            

Mon.
Jog/Run 12 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 12 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog 8 minutes

Tues.
Day Off

Wed.
Jog/Run 12 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run12 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog 8 minutes

Thurs.
Jog 12 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Repeat 3 times

Fri.
Day Off

Sat.
Jog/Run 12 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 12 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog 8 minutes

Sun.
Jog 12 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Repeat 3  times

Week 12            

Mon.
Jog/Run 14 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Jog/Run 13 minutes
Walk 1 minute
Repeat

Tues.
Do Monday again

Wed.
Day Off

Thurs.
Jog/Run 14 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Jog/Run 14 minutes
Walk 30 seconds
Repeat

Fri.
Do Thursday again

Sat.
Day Off

Sun.
Jog/Run 14 minutes
Walk 15 seconds
Repeat

Now you are ready to jog/run for 30 minutes.  If at minute 15 you (still) need a 15- to 60-second rest, take it.  There is never anything amiss about taking short "catch your breath breaks" when they are less than one minute.  But, by the time you have finished week 12, you will find that you can jog 30 minutes at a moderate pace.

Workout by Michele Olson, PhD, Professor of Exercise Physiology at Auburn University Montgomery and creator of the exercise DVD Fitness Prescription: Perfect Legs, Glutes and Abs. www.micheleolsonphd.com

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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