How to Jump Start Weight Loss with a Run/Walk Program

by Mackenzie L. Havey
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How to Jump Start Weight Loss with a Run/Walk Program

“We must learn to walk before we can run.” It’s a famous phrase that highlights the importance of mastering a more basic skill before moving on to the next level. While these sentiments are often correct, many coaches take issue when it comes to literally walking and running. It’s not always necessary to avoid light jogging when you’re starting a new workout regimen; in fact, a combination of both walking and running can be the ticket to increased health and fitness.

“A run/walk program is the perfect accompaniment to a weight-loss program,” says Deb Voiles, a Road Runners Club of America certified coach and the brains behind the Beginner Runner Village Podcast and the Mojo for Running Podcast on iTunes. “An important consideration is that getting fit will make you feel better and, with improved mood, sticking to a weight-loss program will be easier.”

Recent research also supports the act of combining running and walking. One study shows that a combination of walking and running reduced fatigue and muscle pain compared to running alone. This is yet another factor that will help you adhere to your workout plan.

“Because it’s low intensity, a walk/run program will feel doable from day one, improving confidence and providing motivation,” adds Voiles. “You feel good during and after each workout, and that’s key to returning for the next workout.”


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The Keys to a Successful Run/Walk Plan

The key to implementing a walk/run program is to exercise restraint. While we are often highly motivated as we start a new workout program, doing too, much too soon is a recipe for burnout.

Voiles generally starts her clients off the first week alternating between 30 seconds of walking and 1-2 minutes of running for 1 mile. If that feels like too much, try the reverse formula, walking for 1-2 minutes and running for 30 seconds. The running segments should be done at “conversation pace,” meaning you shouldn’t be breathing so hard that you couldn’t easily chat with someone running next to you.

“I have my clients begin with doing the walk/run intervals three days a week and never on back-to-back days,” says Voiles. “They just walk on the other days because, just like experienced runners, their bodies need to rest and recover after hard days.”

Each week, Voiles suggests increasing the running segments by 25%, while gradually increasing distance by a quarter-mile. This means if you start with 1-minute running intervals, the second week you should try for 1-minute-and-15-second intervals and increase your total distance to 1.25 miles.

Over time, you will increase the amount of running you’re doing and the total distance itself, as well as add running intervals on your walk-only days. This will eventually have you doing a run/walk five days a week. Voiles emphasizes that this progression may not be seamless, however, and that listening to your body is key to your success with this type of workout plan.

“If at any time it feels hard, you should drop back and repeat the prior week—you can repeat any week as many times as necessary until it stops feeling hard,” she says. “This, in effect, customizes the training to the individual, which is ideal.”

In addition to paying attention to your perceived exertion during run/walk workouts, you should also heed any aches or pains you’re feeling. “We know the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra is foolish and will lead to injury,” says Voiles. “I tell my clients to never try to ‘run through it.’”

This means if your knee is aching or your hip is killing you, it may be time to back off. You don’t need to cease exercise completely, but it might call for a few days of walking without running intervals. If you have access to a gym, a couple of days on an elliptical or swimming in a pool might also help take care of the problem.

If you are experiencing a persistent ache or are just overall fatigued, you may not be bouncing back from the run/walk sessions properly. This may mean you simply need an additional rest day to let your body recover. “It’s always better to rest an extra day if there are any signals of physical stress, whether you’re tired or feeling a specific discomfort other than just a little muscle soreness,” adds Voiles.

When you learn to balance not just the walking and running intervals, but also the rest days, you’ll begin to see incremental improvements that will represent major jumps in fitness over time. Not only will this help you eventually become a bona fide runner, but it’ll also prompt weight loss and other important health outcomes.


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  • Lizzy

    You could just try the couch to 5k app. It’s great!

  • Wissywig

    I’m so glad to see someone sensible debunk the whole “no pain, no gain” nonsense. There are posters all over my gym with variants of this dangerous statement, and it drives me crazy. As someone with a chronic pain condition who needs to listen to the wisdom of her body, I find it very bad–and dangerous–advice. So thank you for that.

    That said, I have recently begun trying to add a bit of jogging to my walking routine, and I find that whether or not I have pain seems to be very dependent on, of all things, which of the two types of treadmill I use. One will give me shin splints for several days, while I can jog comfortably on the other.

  • Heather

    Looking for suggestions or a good plan/mobile app to train for a 10K.
    Last year as I was working on digging myself out of my fat suit & aging metabolism I incorporated running. My goal became to run a 5K before I turned fifty, which morphed into can I do 5 – 5Ks before 5oh! Which I did and before the end of the year, my husband & I ran 7 total.
    This year we want to be able to conquer a 10K.
    I am scared and unsure the best way to get to that distance – the furthest I’ve ever run is 3.5 miles. Running is definitely still hard for me – lots of internal negative voices complaining & telling me I can’t. I’m not a fast or strong runner. My husband is slower so it’s hard for us to run together and now he has to be away for ten weeks so I’ve lost my training partner.

    • ghbucky

      I use PRT (personal Running trainer) for iOS.

      It has training programs for 1 mile, 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon and full marathon.

      Be warned that it gives you a few days of each program, and then wants you to purchase the plan for 3.99 but I think that is totally worth it.

      • Heather

        Hey! Thanks so much for the tip! I’ll check that one out!

        • MC0084

          Couch to 10K. It basically picks up where Couch to 5k left off. Great app and its free.

      • mapu123

        rundouble has great options, but C25K as Lizzy mentioned is also a good choice.

  • Aroop Kundu

    it’s a good article @Mackenzie.. But a very important aspect you missed adding was weight training … here’s why
    1. Steady state cardio will cause slowing metabolism over time
    2. Without weight training a good portion of weight loss will come from muscle + fat

  • Ed Hagerty

    I am a walker, I walk 3.5 miles 4 to 6 days a week. but sometimes I so want to do some running again and maybe a little mixture of running and walking might do the trick. I’m just so afraid of my right knee going out on me again and I hate having to wear the brace I bought to run as it is kind of bulky.

    I tore either my my ACL or MCL back about 10 years ago playing softball and I couldn’t afford to have it repaired with no insurance and the doctor said at my age, 53 at the time, if I wasn’t very active not to worry about it, but the last time I got kind of active on the treadmill I was fine even got up to about 6 miles an hour a few times and then I felt a pop and had to take it easy for months. That’s when I was told to get the brace I have, but I find it bulky, so I stick to walking.

    • Sani Malik

      Hi Ed,

      Since you are a walker, maybe you can give me some advice. I’m trying to lose some belly fat but dot know when is the best time to do the walk/run. I go to bed after 12 and in planning to do the running before the sun come out say amount 5am.
      But if I go for running then Im afraid I will mess up my sleeping schedule. I can’t do the running she it burning hot outside:(
      And is it okay to run on an empty stomach? And do you eat afterwards?
      Please advice, thanks

      • Adam

        Sani,

        I frequently run in the morning before eating breakfast (usually between 3-7 miles). I find it hard to run after I eat. If I need something before the run, I choose something light like a banana or a protein bar. When I get back, I usually fix some breakfast.

        As far as your run schedule, you may suffer with the lack of sleep. Only 4-5 hours is a night is going to be rough on you and may impede the weight loss. Could you try running in the evening instead? Even on a hot day in Atlanta, I can usually get in a good run around 7:30-8 PM without feeling too much of the heat.

        • Scott Jackson

          I am a walker/runner as well. I always complete 3 miles. My question is I have a little belly fat that I’m trying to get rid of, what do I need to do?

          • Ron Williams

            Scott. There is no such thing in fitness as targeted fat loss, regardless of what they say on TV. You want to target fat on the midsection then attack it through your daily diet, increase your activity levels, watch closely what you eat during the nights and assist all that by toning the underlying muscles in the abdominal region. You can train them much harder than you think. I’m just being 100% honest with you. Even some professional athletes have the same problem that you do. They either work it off by increasing their total energy expenditure, by more closely monitoring their diet and concentrating more on that area for toning. Otherwise they opt to see a doctor at a clinic and have that extra little bit sucked out through a tube via cut in the skin of which is not advisable.

          • Kalsang

            Running is cheapest way to lose weight. But you want a flat stomach then u should do excercise too which include mix of strength , cardio and abs excercise. You surely get flat stomach . Try interval running . Stick to balance diet , drink lots of water .

  • Amieteam

    I would! I am no expert but I am about 70 pounds overweight and I am doing the couch to 5 k and feel awesome. Have lost about 15 pounds so far. It is hard at first but it gets easier. Give it a try for 3 weeks and see how you feel. ☺

  • Peggy

    I have a very basic question…..what do you use to time these 30 second or 2 minute segments? If I’m stopping constantly to check my watch I’m not getting much exercise in

    • Brad

      If you have access to a treadmill, there should be a time display. If no treadmill download runkeeper for your smartphone. Runkeeper you can create a customize workout, you will need head phones so you can hear the voice que to tell you to switch to a run/walk.

      • Peggy

        Will check into run keeper. Thanks

    • your heartrate will slow enough in 30 seconds, so that when you rev back up again, you actually kick back into gear, so to speak, which takes energy, thus burning more calories rather than staying steady or increasing just once or twice in a regular walk or run. great question peggy!

    • Brandy Toups

      If you have a smartphone, the couch to 5K app is great. The app will tell you when to jog and when to walk, and you can listen to music through it as well. It is how I started running.

    • Kalsang

      You don’t need to check time while running , it’s simply means run faster for short time then back to slow running , keep doing that for five to six time while running . It will help to burn more calories.

  • Sha’ Sha’

    When your overweight and you walk 2-3days a week should u try the walk/Run intervals?

    • Stacy

      Check w your Dr. always. I’m overweight and started a run walk in Feb. (Jenny Hadfield zero to running program) you walk five minutes then run 30 seconds on the first part and gradually increase. Ease into any new activity. I’m still overweight but not as much as I was.

    • ghbucky

      For me, I felt that running would be too much. So, I picked up one of those pedometer apps for my iPhone and started working up to walking 10000 steps a day along with eating healthier.

      The weight started coming off.

      Once the walking started to begin to feel mundane, (it was about a month later for me) I started a running program that ran me through run/walk interval training like the article described.

      Of course, talking to a Dr is a great idea, and your mileage may vary.

    • Kalsang

      Running is easiest way to lose weight , start with jogging then later try run little faster , once you feel Much easier to run faster then try interval running .. U will lose 20 to 30 pound in three month . Don’t forget to Stick to balance diet also . , no coke , no sweets , no chips , no potato dish .

    • Alya

      I started out walking during my breaks at work. 15 minutes and then I got to where I went a little more than a mile in about 18 minutes. 3 minutes over my break time. Did that for a year or so then on weekends I would walk for longer, do big hills and then eventually started jogging at short intervals. This was before everyone was on the HIIT bandwagon. I lost 80 pounds that way. I got sick and gained back 40 now I have a slow thyroid and I am just getting back to walking/running again. I don’t time it. Just if I feel like running I do and when I don’t I stop and walk. Sometimes I walk slow other times fast. Bring water with you and you can do some exercises with the water bottles before you drink them. It really feels good and is easy and gentle on you if you are obese as I was. Nearly morbidly so. It works.

  • Cami

    Get run/walk timer. Jeff Galloway web site sells them, and has training programs for Run Disney. You can access those through Run Disney races. I went from zero running to half marathon using timer, and his training program.

    • iolani64

      When I started running in 1969, you ran til you threw up because only the weak fall by the side. Lost 30 lbs. that summer and it has stayed off even though I don’t run but walk, hot yoga weight lift canoe paddle.

  • Ron Williams

    Faith…. if you don’t want to dive in face first to the Runkeeper device (of which I do recommend active runners) chances are that all you need is at your local gym. I don’t advise just entering into a running program if you are in your late 30s or older and have been tied to a desk for years or have become a couch potato over the past decade. A Doctor’s advice is always wise in these cases.

    I’m 54 years old and on 02/27/15 I was 248 lbs and sick, tired, achy and without motivation for most of the active things I used to do. But that ALSO was the day that I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and committed to a fitness program regardless of how much I wanted to think it hurt or took away from my free time! Yesterday, 8/8/2015, I am down 54 lbs, all in less than 6 months. All that I use is a Garmin VivoFit, Myfitnesspal and my gym. I am a mere 9 lbs away from my short term goal of 185, a 63 lb total weight loss. I should hit that mark in about 2.5 weeks. My ultimate goal is 170 lbs which would be a 78 pound weight loss. I was at 170 lbs for a good many years of my life and was in excellent condition at 38 y/o & 170 lbs so there is where I’d like to be again.

    I knew that weighing 248 lbs on a 170 lb frame was a prescription for injury so I refused to run. I spent the money on a quality pair of walking shoes recommended by my Podiatrist and off to the gym I went.

    Faith, learn how the body functions and uses energy stores. Use Myfitnesspal to the fullest extent and hit the treadmill with a quality pair of walking or cross trainer shoes. Don’t listen to those popular fitness gurus and diet pushers who knock the treadmill and attempt to convince you there is a better way… there is always a motive underlying any pushers insistence. During the last 6 months I have ran less than 50 meters TOTAL….. it is not necessary.

    Pay close attention to what you allow to cross your lips and enter your mouth and stomach. Failing to do so is what kills most people’s motivation for continuing a fitness program because the of the lack of visible results verses the amount of time they have devoted to it. Don’t rely on the scales right away or a measuring tape to determine weight loss. Dig out a pair of old jeans you either can’t fit into anymore or you think you look silly in because of a weight gain. I HAVE SUCH A PAIR myself! I used a mirror for the fist couple of month and started to become discouraged because I could see no visible results because I could not see where I was shedding body fat….it was behind me on my backside and my upper back. Then the loss came around the other way to the front side from my face, neck and midsection. I now use the jeans method and I’m almost there too.

    Get yourself in good health as 70lbs overweight is simply not good for you but you can get active such as I did and lose the weight. I’m waiting just a bit longer before I start running again and will surely use the runkeeper!

  • Julie Castaneda

    Even if everyone follows a good diet plan not everyone will loose weight as easily as others, due to many factors (thyroid problems, ext.)

  • Does this run and walk plan decrease my high blood glucose levels?

    • Heather Williams

      It should help. In the last six months just be increasing my exercise – including some walk/jog or walk/run intervals my Hba1c (longer measure of blood sugar levels) has come down from 41 (pre-diabetic) to 36.

      • It is interesting that you self monitored your walking, running, and jogging over six months, did you self monitor your weight over six months?

        • Heather Williams

          Yes, there was a slight decrease – about 3kg.

          • Did you also self monitor your blood glucose levels over six months? Was the 3kgs your expected goal weight decrease? Did you have any support to achieve the slight decrease of 3kgs?

  • Tina

    Even though my wrist band says walk or run it just puts it in steps and I am happy! Being of 70 years young I try to do my best but boy, those extra 10 kilos that piled on when I stopped work and menopause kicked in are just about impossible to shift unless I go on a lettuce diet!

  • Lola Katsumi

    I need to really try this at gym because I am at plateau with working out and cleaning eating! Thanks for the post.

  • ras

    how do you print these exercise tips? I can print only the first page; often no text shows up. I would like to save the tips in a notebook.

    • Sarah

      copy and paste to an empty document

  • Jules

    This walk/run routine I’ve been doing for years and it’s a terrific balance of both forms of movement. I even incorporate dance into it where I celebrate completing my 8-13 miles of distance each time. I call it WOGGING, walking and jogging interchangeably.

    • Greg Dahlen

      now that sounds cool

    • KonaRose

      And I thought I coined the ‘wogging’ term! Cool you call it that as well!!

  • Greg Dahlen

    one nice thing about walking is you can easily pop into stores and do errands along the way, which is much harder when you drive somewhere as it’s a hassle to stop and park for each little errand

  • Mark Du Ree

    I’ve been running for 8 years, and with the exception of long runs, I’ve been running the entire workout, plus a walking cool down period at the end. For long runs I would run 900m walk 100m, for 13-16km. But, I was never able to consistently have a program that would get me over 18 miles per week. A few months ago, I decided I really needed to “up my game”, and I did it by taking it down a notch, so to speak. To do this, I gradually changed my routine to include one or two days per week of a solid “run all the way thru it” workout(s) one of which is tempo, one or two walk/run with the run part being very fast intervals of 400m run 100m walk, one long run of 13-16k (8-10miles) 900m slow run and 100m walk, and then the rest of the week I do “easy runs” of 4-6 miles using 400-900m run 100m walk intervals. Doing this has allowed me to build up to running 5-6 days per week and 30-34 miles consistently. Using walk breaks has helped keep fatigue at bay while adding miles. In addition, my BP has gotten even better and my RHR has gone down a bit. During weeks where I only do one tempo and one fast interval, and the rest easy with walk breaks, I usually get more mileage. Mixing it up keeps boredom at bay. You just have to listen to your body and take breaks as necessary.

    • So, you said you started with a monotonous type of workout, and because of that boredom you switch to a more inconsistent workout with your walking speed (distance/ time) help you decrease your weight?

      • Mark Du Ree

        I wasn’t losing anything with just the plain straight thru runs because I wasn’t getting enough mileage to help with weight loss…and I was still eating too much. I needed more time/distance/calorie burn. But because of fatigue, I couldn’t ramp up the mileage. I would get it to 25 miles and then the next week be so tired that I could only get 9-12 total, and some weeks only 5 miles. I did a half marathon in October last year and as I was ramping up mileage for that, I discovered I could go further without fatigue if I took walk breaks. I still didn’t lose much weight because the half marathon was in the town where my kids live and whenever we get together, food is the main event, every day. Then we had all kinds of visitors for the holidays, so I decided to wait until the new year to adjust the food, but in the meantime slowly ramped up the mileage. I can report that with the increased mileage by using the run/walk technique, in addition to the HIIT run once per week or sometimes twice, even my straight thru runs have become easier, longer, and faster. And, with a little adjustment to the food intake, my weight is down 14 pounds since about the 5th of Jan when everything settled down again after the holidays.

        Interestingly enough, the more mileage I get, and the higher intensity on the HIIT days, the less hungry I feel, so long as I don’t overdo carbs at any given meal. I’m not doing super low carb like Atkins or anything, but I’ve found that if I keep my protein a bit higher than the usual recommendations, and the carbs a little lower, then I do well with the weight loss as well as having the energy to run.

  • dannysmom

    About to start a walking program next week. This is just the motivation I needed. Thank you! Can’t wait to try it out

  • Marilee Jikey

    I hurt my ankle running so I backed off to a walk/run routine. I live in a hilly area so I walk the flat and downhill parts and run up the hills. Running the hills get my heart rate in the 150 area. After I have done this routine for an hour or so I feel like I have gotten a really good workout.

    • It sounds like you have an interested jogging course. If your heart rate is in the area of 150 are you desiring to make the goal of reaching 120? Is that goal possible on the type of running course?

      • Marilee Jikey

        No, I don’t think that’s possible. Walking really briskly will maintain a 120’ish rate for me. Running up the hills is hard work and really pushes the rate up there.

        • So, by me flexing my knees as I walk briskly, I can achieve that goal of 120? So, do you think walking briskly without hills my heart rate will not spike up?

          • Sarah

            I think you would be the best judge of what works for you.

  • Valerie

    I enjoyed reading this article. I’m starting to train for my fifth half marathon. A little older this year, so my hip will ache along with my ankle. I’m starting this program tomorrow. Thank you!

  • Marty

    I STRONGLY suggest walk/runners at any level subscribe to Deb Voiles Mojo for Runners site and download her podcasts. She covers topics from proper form to cross training in an orderly and encouraging manner. This is a program that actually works, as opposed to those “Coach to 5K” deals that start with “Just run a mile a day for the first week and then . . . .” With Mojo for Runners/Runners Village, you’ll get both encouragement and results.

    • J Willis

      I don’t know which Couch to 5K (C25K) programs you’ve looked at, but they aren’t anything like ones that I’ve successfully used as I’ve been working my way back to fitness after 25 years of living with Systemic Lupus. I’ve never encountered a C25K that tells people to begin by running a mile per day in Week 1. Instead, the have started with an initial routine of 5 minute walking warm up, 60-90 seconds of jogging followed by 1-2 minutes of walking (repeated to total ca. 20 minutes), and a 5 minute cool down walk. I’m not saying that the podcast you’re promoting isn’t an excellent idea, but please don’t throw good C25K programs under the bus at the same time. Thanks!

      • Rachael

        You can walk a mile at a normal pace in roughly 15 minutes so there really wouldn’t be much between the two different styles of training, I personally feel.

        • Sarah

          It’s not a matter of averaging how fast you’re going. It’s about increasing the effort and workload on your heart then backing off again (it builds the heart muscle, and you are able to tolerate the increased exertion). Big difference.

      • BlueCornMoon

        I just started couch to 5k ( the one with the green 5, white K & blue background in case there’s another one with same name) this week. Did first run walk yesterday & felt great after. I already do step aerobics, Body Pump, walking, hiking , & yoga so my leg strength is pretty good. I’m also on Weight Watchers & it helped me break thru a 3 1/2 month weight plateau

  • This is the first time I came across your blog and this is really informative. I want to loose weight and read somewhere that running is the best way to reduce weight, but I have certain questions in my mind that how to start? Should I do warm-up before running? Some questions like this are not letting me start. Could you please help?

  • Haute Mess

    I used to run half marathons but have not run in almost two years due to an acute neurological injury and recent back surgery. In a few months I should be cleared to run again and a run/walk plan will be a good way to ease back into running again.

  • Andrea

    I just finished the 8 week C25K app and I’ve lost 15 pounds in conjunction with MFP and 30 minute light circuit training on my off days. I’m still not running the 5K in 30 minutes but I can run the whole thing. It’s quite an accomplished considering I could barely run for 1 minute in week one. I would never have been able to build my endurance without a run/walk plan. I felt like each day I had accomplished something and just like this article says, if I struggled one week, I repeated it.

  • Charles Dale

    I started out walking 30 minutes a day and incorporated at least 140 steps per minute. I use my stopwatch for this. Then for 1 lap, I do 6, I walk as fast as I can and see how many steps per minute that gets me (usually 160). Then, after a month, Immediately after the walk, I jog for 30 minutes at 180 steps per minute and 1 lap (I do 9) I jog as fast as i can. This is HIIT training. The hour total, I go 5.25 miles per day, 6 days a week. I live on the 14th floor and take the stairs down and after I finish the jog, I take the stairs up pulling hand over hand as I also pull myself up using the wooden handrails in the staircase When I go shopping, I take the stairs down and up to even with 2 grocery bags in each hand. I also do 20 minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening of push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, burpees, pull ups and body weight calisthenics. That, along with clean eating, vitamins, nutritional supplements, drinking mostly water, all this 6 days a week, keeps me in good shape. I am 55 yard old and people who see me in the neighborhood, call me Rocky, Superman and hero, lol. I smile, thank them, tell them I am none of those but they see me in the rain, snow, when it is 97 outside, 7 in January and they think that’s wonderful.