Wednesday Workout: Progression Run

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I’m no running coach, but after eight years as a runner and four years as a running reporter, I’ve learned a repertoire of workouts that I love. Every Wednesday, I share one of them.

This week, let’s look at the progression run. Stamina workouts aren’t my strong suit. But for runners like me, a progression run is a great option.

What is a Progression Run?

The idea is simple: start your workout slowly and finish faster than you began. In races, we call it running a negative split. In workouts, it’s a progression run. There are many ways to tackle a progression run: breaking it into half or thirds, or running at a steady pace for most of the workout and then kicking it up a notch for the final mile or minutes, or making the harder effort at the end longer than the shorter, easier effort up front.

My Favorite Progression Run

My favorite progression run, though, is to simply speed up gradually over the course of an entire run. It makes for an especially great treadmill workout. For one thing, I love pushing buttons on the treadmill to help stave off boredom. But the treadmill also helps ensure you don’t speed up too much, too soon.

I start at an easy pace. Then every 2-5 minutes depending on how long I’m running, I up the treadmill speed a notch or two. By the end, I’m usually running marathon or half-marathon pace and getting a great sweat. It’s not an exact science. But I know where I want to start and where I want to finish. So I just gradually speed up until I get there.

Why Progression Runs?

I love progression runs because I feel like I’m getting a good workout, but they don’t wipe me out like some workouts do. I can run a progression run and be ready for a speed workout the next day. And they’re more fun than a steady-state run. They’re also great for practicing pushing the pace when you’re already tired or have been running for a while. And mentally, they’re fantastic. It’s really encouraging to feel like you crushed a workout, finishing strong.

Learn More About Progression Runs

Running coach Greg McMillan, who I worked with very briefly in 2011, has a great article about progression runs and his favorite kinds. It’s worth a read for runners who want to learn how to start throwing this kind of workout into the mix.

Matt Fitzgerald at Competitor recommends all runners include at least one progression run per week in their routine and offers a few of his favorites as well.

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.

10 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    I love your comment about pressing buttons on a treadmill to stave off boredom. I totally do that too! This is a great idea – especially on a treadmill. I’m saving this for my next treadmill run.
    Emily recently posted..Weekly Training ReviewMy Profile

  2. 3

    Ah, I totally didn’t realize this is what a progression run is. Whenever I do one of these in practice runs I’m always like OMG negative split! :) … like tonight was an OMG negative split kind of night, haha!
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..A Sappy Post About How Running Makes Me Cry Happy TearsMy Profile

  3. 5

    I love progression runs, they train you to be smarter and stronger! I practice them all the time, especially on longer ones (but short ones it matters too). Finishing strong is my favorite, and I have been able to have strong finishes because I have learned to start slower. I honestly used to ALWAYS start too fast, and always die out. It was disheartening. When I learned to pace myself, it was amazing how much better my times got, and how easier it felt!
    Laura recently posted..Boston, Triathlon Training and Life in General.My Profile

  4. 7

    I should throw a few of these into my training. I have a problem with fading in the last stretch.
    Elle recently posted..An Enchanted Evening with Sylvia at the Metropolitan Opera HouseMy Profile

  5. 9

    I totally do this whenever I do longer runs on the treadmill for the same reason. If I’m adjusting the speed every so often, I get less bored (or breaks up the boredom). Who knew I was actually doing a real running technique with a real name? Woohoo! lol
    Kellie recently posted..Week in Training (and kinda back to Cooking!) 6/24-6/30My Profile