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Home arrow Fitness arrow Running arrow What Is a Progression Run? Full Guide for Beginners

What Is a Progression Run? Full Guide for Beginners

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: December 28, 2022
6 min read 1213 Views 0 Comments
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Experienced runners wanting to improve their half-marathon pace often turn to progressive runs to do so. This hard-hitting running style can have big effects on aerobic fitness and help runners of all skill levels see results.

progression run

Tempo runs, fartleks, and hill repeats are all popular running styles that are practiced by many, but most people have never tried progression running.

It is a style of running that uses a gradual speed increase to challenge the body and the mind and is used by many runners trying to speed up their marathon pace and expand their endurance base.

If you’re looking to improve your running time, keep reading to learn more about this unique style of running, how to structure your runs, and more information about progression run benefits.

What Is a Progression Run?

Progression runs are a style of running that involves starting your run at a slow pace and then incrementally increasing your speed until you hit your fastest pace at the end of your workout.

The speed at which you choose to run and how you break up your progression runs can vary, depending on your specific running goals.

What Is a Normal Progression Run Pace?

The best pace for each person will vary, depending on their fitness level and familiarity with this running style.

More advanced runners should aim to be somewhere between their 5K pace and marathon pace, while the focus of newer runners should be experimenting with different speeds and progression run styles to figure out what works best for them.

Whichever pace you choose, the end of your run should end with you picking up speed.

5 Benefits of Progression Run

Structured progression runs can be done at a variety of speeds, each of which provides different benefits, both for the body and the mind. 

Adding more progression runs into your training plan can help you improve your cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength, and even improve your half-marathon race pace. 

#1 Reduces your risk of injury

Whether it’s overuse injuries or torn muscles, running at a higher intensity puts you at a greater risk of injury, especially if you suffer from a heart condition. By incorporating progression runs done at a slower pace, you can minimize your risk of injury when you run. 

#2 Enhances your cardiovascular health

Doing a progression run will challenge your aerobic system and provide cardiovascular benefits since it effectively increases your heart rate and improves blood flow.

Exercise is an important part of keeping your cardiovascular system healthy, and any amount of running, even at a slow pace, can help prevent things like heart attacks and strokes in the future. 

#3 Challenges you mentally

Challenging yourself to increase your speed isn’t easy when your legs are already tired. 

By incorporating more progression runs into your training schedule, you can get better at breaking through mental plateaus, helping you run faster and push yourself harder, which will ultimately help you set a better race pace.

#4 Increases muscle strength

In order to continue building muscle, you have to periodically increase the level of difficulty of your runs, which can be difficult when you’re used to following the same running routine. 

Adding a progressive run into your training schedule could be the challenge you need to push your body in order to increase the demand on your muscles, helping them grow even stronger.

#5 Gets you marathon-ready

Negative splits are a popular running style that involves increasing your pace as you run. They are commonly used by marathon runners to increase their speed on race day.

If you plan on doing races like a half-marathon, practicing negative splits is a good way for you to improve your time so you can cross the finish line faster.

Structure of Progression Run Workout

There are a few different options for structuring your progression run. You might find that one of these styles works best with your specific body type and might even help you see results more quickly than the other options.

When you first start experimenting with progression run workouts, it’s a good idea to try all 3 of these running structures to see which feels best for you. 

#1 Slow until the final quarter

This running style involves you running at an easy pace for 75% of your run before increasing your speed for the final 25%. Figuring out which speeds work best for you will likely involve some trial and error.

Since the final quarter of this run will last a considerable distance, your speed increase shouldn’t bring you to a full-out sprint. Instead, you should aim to be around a speed similar to your tempo run pace, or maybe a little higher.

#2 Only fast at the finish

This kind of progression run ends with you moving at the highest intensity your body will allow at the very end of your run. It is perfect for anyone who is working on their negative splits in order to get marathon-ready. 

Since you will probably be switching to anaerobic respiration during the final stretch, you can expect to hit your physical limit after 3–5 minutes.

Figuring out which distances work for you for each stretch of this run might take some time and will probably vary considerably as you increase your cardiovascular health and overall endurance.

#3 Break it into thirds

This progression run involves breaking your run into 3 parts, getting incrementally faster as you go. It is sure to challenge your cardiovascular system and mental fortitude and can be a good option for beginners.

During the first stage, you should aim to run at a marathon pace, something you can easily sustain for a longer period. 

You would then increase to a faster pace, moving closer to that which you would use running a half-marathon, before finally hitting the fastest pace you can sustain for 15–20 minutes without needing a break. 

#4 Take breaks in between 

This option is easier for beginners since it will give you more leeway should you run a little faster or slower than you can maintain. Practicing this style of progression run will allow you to play with different paces to find what works for you. 

An example of this running workout would be doing 3 separate 3–5-minute intervals. The first third at a comfortable pace, the second at a tempo pace, and the final third – as fast as you can manage with tired legs. 

#5 Find your pace

All of the different types of progression runs can pose a higher level of difficulty than some of the other popular running styles. 

This is because they involve tracking your run more carefully and also because of the precision that is required when choosing your running speed since you want to ensure you don’t exhaust yourself before the finish.

If you find yourself struggling to find a pace that works for you or even find that this style of running is too challenging, you might want to use a running app to help. 

Particularly one that creates personalized running plans for their users, specifically designed for someone in the beginning stages of running.

Joggo is an app that we recommend since it offers a variety of running workouts as well as personalized meal plans. 

When used in combination, diet and exercise can help you see the best results, and Joggo has helped thousands of people all around the world reach their particular fitness goals.

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How often should you do a progression run?

Doing 1–2 progression runs per week is accessible to everyone, regardless of their fitness level and amount of experience.

If you want to work out more, then switching up your running routine will provide the best results.

Is it healthy to do a progression run every day?

Although doing progression runs reduces your chances of injury, it’s not a good idea to do any kind of running workout every day since running can be hard on the body.

Interchanging progression runs with different running styles and either active or passive rest days is the best way to see results.

Are progression runs better than base runs for workouts?

In short, no. Progression runs don’t offer more benefits than base runs. 

Since these two running styles are comparable in a lot of ways, you can expect similar results and will probably find that these two running styles complement one another nicely.

Is a progression run beginner-friendly?

Yes, progression runs are suitable for beginners since the structure of this running style is relatively simple and easy to understand, even if you have very little running experience.

A Word From Our Coach

Using a variety of different running workouts will not only help you maximize the health benefits of running but can also be a fun way for you to keep your running workouts feeling new and exciting.

Incorporating progression runs and playing around with different speed work can be exactly what you need to break through training plateaus or just generally keep you motivated to continue working out.

This style of training is great for both beginners as well as more experienced runners and can be enhanced through the use of running aids that help create new training plans.

Bottom Line

Progression runs are a style of running that uses a negative split, meaning you start slowly and finish faster.

They can be used by both beginners and more advanced runners and are especially helpful for anyone training for longer races like a marathon or half-marathon.

Written by Isabel Mayfield
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Isabel Mayfield
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: December 28, 2022
6 min read 1213 Views 0 Comments

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