05 February 2010

Running progression

Let's suppose that you have decided to become a runner, and are looking at how to progress from being a walker to being a runner.  The first part should not be neglected.  Before heading off to becoming a runner, you should work on being a good walker.  I'm not referring to speed for this, or for pretty much anything else I say.  Rather, it is consistency that matters.  Before starting on your running program, I think you should be comfortable with regular healthy walking.  So you should be comfortable with going out 4-5 times per week and walking for 30 minutes before considering doing running.

Most people, runners perhaps more than most, like to ignore walking as a means of exercise, and as a requirement for fitness.  The thing is, walking really is a good exercise in its own right.  Depending on your current condition, it will get your pulse up nicely.  If it does, then it is already giving you good aerobic exercise.  Regardless of that, it is a weight-bearing exercise.  If your aim is health, then these are your primary concerns.  If walking gets your pulse up to the 65-75% level (see my heart rate calculator for some estimates of that), then it is sufficient.  In fact, more than sufficient -- it is likely the safest, healthiest, way for you to get your pulse in to that aerobic training zone.  Running means a big increase in your landing forces -- several times body weight.  If your body hasn't yet adjusted to the forces involved in walking, running can be an invitation to injury.

Walk before you run is a very good training idea.  If you're finding it somewhat embarassing, or whatever, to be working on your walking, feel free to supplement it with strength work, prehabilitation, flexibility work, or just telling yourself that you're not merely walking -- you're scoping out good routes to go running on.  But walking really is the starting point.  I'd post a progression if I knew of any.  (Contributions?)

But then there's running.

Again, first be solid at the stage 0 of running -- be comfortable walking 30 minutes straight, 4 or more times per week.  And establish this by actually going for walks of 30 minutes (or more) at least 4 times.  And the day after the walks, still be comfortable and not have complaining muscles/joints.

Once you're to the point of being truly comfortable with a nice 30 minute walk (maybe a chance to say hi to the neighbors), then my idea is to include a bit of running in with your nice, healthy, 30 minute walk.  Some people, particularly younger people, will be able to start later in the progression.  That's ok.  On the other hand, some people, particularly older or people more over their healthy weights, will want to start at stage one.  That's fine too.  The thing is, where you start doesn't matter in the long run.  When I started, I started with 50 yards at a time.  A few years later, I ran 50 km on trails.  The starting point doesn't matter.  Being consistent matters.  Getting out for your next workout matters.  Doing a lot in today's workout doesn't matter, and can actually be a bad idea.  If it means you don't get out for your next workout, it's a bad idea.

The progression I give below is my own, so apply due grains of salt.  It is derived from Jim Fixx's The complete Book of Running and the RRCA beginner programs.  Fixx, I think, did better for starting from a true beginner -- someone who might find 30 seconds running (call it 50-100 yards/meters) a challenge.  The RRCA, I think, does better for the later stages of moving up to the straight 30 minutes running.  You'll find quite a different progression in Alberto Salazar's Guide To Running, which takes a full year to go from 30 minutes walking to 30 minutes running.

In terms of rate of progression of the stages, an attentive coach is a real help.  If you don't have a coach, then you're your own coach.  The thing your coach (you) need to look for is how comfortable your runner (yourself) is the day of and the day after each of the workouts.  A healthy young person might start at stage 6-10, and then progress one stage per week.  A not-so healthy not-so young person might take 2-3 weeks for each stage.  Again, no problem.  It is what it is.  And regardless of what you do, the fact that you're doing something is a big plus to your health and fitness.

If you find that going one week per stage is too fast, then mix up the progression some.  Let's say that you're 'stalling' at stage 2 (Hank?).  We'll take that to mean that stage 2 is ok, maybe with some effort, but doing a full week of stage 3 is too much.  One option is just repeat stage 2 until those runs become easy.  If that's 4 weeks, so be it.  Each of the 4 weeks you're doing something good for your health.

A different option, after you've established that 1 week at a given stage is no challenge, is to do one workout this week from the next stage.  So do 2-3 of your workouts at stage 2, but one at stage 3.  If your body is ok with this, then in the next week, do 2 workouts from stage 3.  As best I've been able to establish from first hand experience and second hand (coaching), each of the stages I list is about as big a jump as the others.  That may seem surprising, in that it suggests there's as big a jump in effort in adding 30 seconds running (from stages 1-2, or 2-3) as for adding 5 minutes (stages 9-10).  But, honest, it squares with what I've experienced myself, and my runners have told me.  (I also recently re-experienced the fact that from stages 10-11 is definitely as big as 11-12, and that's only 1 minute more running in the 30 minute workout!)

One last qualifier: Some people hit a plateau as they progress.  It seems unpredictable where the plateau will be.  But, for a week or three, it'll feel like the workouts aren't getting any easier.  That's fine, just hang on whatever stage it is until they do start to ease up.  If they're getting harder, drop back a level.  The main thing, again, is to get out and do something.  If you back off a level or two, that's fine.  The converse will be the weeks when the next level is super easy.  Now, if you're not getting out 3-4 times per week, you'll probably need to take more time on each level.  2 times is noticeably less effective than 3.  On the other hand, 2 is far better than 1.  And 1 is still tremendously better than 0.

Stage 0: Walk 30 minutes straight, 4 or more times per week

For the following, do 3-4 times per week, with 36-48 hours between workouts.
stage  Run-walk   Repetitions  Running time
1      0:30-7:00    4           2:00
2      0:30-5:30    5           2:30
3      0:30-4:30    6           3:00
4      0:30-4:00    7           3:30
5       1 - 5       5           5:00
6      1:30-4:30    5           7:30
7a      1 - 2      10           10
 b      2 - 4       5
8       2 - 3       6           12
9a     2:30-2:30    6           15
 b      1 - 1       15
10a     2 - 1       10          20
  b     4 - 2        5
11      4 - 1        6          24
12      5 - 1        5          25
13      9 - 1        3          27
14     14 - 1        2          28
15       30 minutes running


Lazar said...



Imerson said...

Whenever I hit a plateau, I would take a week off. Then start again at (at increased minutes/intensity). This method seems to work for me.

Robert Grumbine said...

You've found a more extreme version of what is a common training approach. The idea is that you can only increase your workload for so long before bad things happen. So, rather than wait for the injury to appear, or a plateau, or just plain 'dead legs', plan to back off every so often.

It's called periodization. I haven't seen it applied much to beginning running, but definitely to running later. Usual periods are 4 or 5 weeks -- in the 4th or 5th week back down to what you did 2-3 weeks earlier. This time around it should feel pretty easy, and let your body do some good rebuilding. Then resume your increases for the race you've got in mind.

Brian said...

Knee problems forced me to stop running until I found I could do barefoot running on the right surfaces (beaches, treadmills) and specialized slippers called Five Fingers for everything else. Knee problems are gone.

OTOH, my calves are now killing me, but it's just muscle soreness, not the pain of injury.

Robert Grumbine said...

Brian: Since my problem is a calf, I'm now edgy about 'just a muscle problem'. Take care of those muscles and give yourself time to adapt. The amount of time needed is less if you're younger.

Brian Schmidt said...

Penguin - yeah, Five Fingers probably aren't for you then. I've heard the same for people with hip problems. I think they're great for those of us with knee issues though.

Hank Roberts said...

Brian, care to specify details on the kind of knee pain that got fixed? I've been really hoping some kind of flat shoe will help. I get up to the running schedule stage 3 or 4, then knocked out by knee pain, then start over again.

(My knees don't hurt the day I run, exercise definitely helps -- but I get the pain while sleeping, sitting, or squatting/kneeling.

It's of the commonest complaints, supposedly typical of early osteoarthritis -- ditto for the shoulder pain the night and next day after digging ditches, limbing trees, or doing anything else)

I've tried on the FiveFingers shoes several times now, there's a nearby store, but it seems my feet aren't shaped right (my big toes hits the end while my little toes don't even get into the openings for them).

So I'm looking for other flat shoes --- like my original leather green Adidas from the 1970s, which I loved til I got shinsplints!.

(I do like the "toe socks" which I find very helpful in flattening out my toes and spreading them).

I definitely have to find something for the knee/shoulder pain to keep exercising.

If I were a lab rabbit, they'd let me try this very promising treatment: http://arthritis-research.com/content/9/1/R8 (but then they'd have to kill me). Waiting ....