Taking up running is a huge step for anyone. Taking the first step is always the hardest, and getting yourself out there week in, week out takes courage and determination.
If you don’t know where to start, then the Couch to 5k training plan in this guide has got you covered!
Whether you’re starting running to get fit, improve your mental health, lose weight or to simply get outdoors more, I’m so glad you’ve decided to take the first step!
In this guide we’ll explore:
- What is the Couch to 5k program?
- How does the Couch to 5k program work?
- Why is the Couch to 5k training plan so popular?
- How long is the Couch to 5k training plan?
- What is the best Couch to 5k app?
- Couch to 5k training plan Q&A
- My 10-week Couch to 5k training plan
- 10 tips for running Couch to 5k
- What to do after Couch to 5k
Let’s get started!
What is Couch to 5k program?
The Couch to 5k program is a beginner-friendly training plan that combines walking and running.
It’s aimed at anyone who is new to running and wants to run a 5k by the end of the training plan.
Couch to 5k is often abbreviated to C25K – so you may see this term in the running community.
The plan was first developed by Josh Clark over 25 years ago.
Josh started the plan because he himself wanted to help with his own recovery after an injury, and wanted to help newbie runners establish a running routine.
How does the Couch to 5k program work?
The Couch to 5k training plan works by combining walking and running intervals. This way it gently eases you into running over the course of the plan.
Many beginner runners think they should be able to run continuously without stopping from the get go which is simply not true.
The Couch to 5k training plan is designed to slowly increase endurance and stamina by increasing the amount of time in which you run and decreasing the walking break intervals.
Why is Couch to 5k training plan so popular?
The Couch to 5k program has become increasingly popular over the last few decades as it is a great way to get into running.
With 2.36 million of these downloads taking place between March 2020 and July 2021 alone!
As more and more people seek to become more active, there are no signs of the Couch to 5k program slowing down.
How long is the Couch to 5k training plan?
Most Couch to 5k training plans are between 9 to 12 weeks.
10 weeks is generally considered the most appropriate time frame to learn how to run a 5k.
The training plan in this guide is 10 weeks long as I believe 10 weeks is the most effective plan when building up to your first 5k.
What is the best Couch to 5k app?
There are many Couch to 5k apps on the market nowadays that help you run your first 5k. You can read about these in my guide on running for beginners apps.
My personal preference is the NHS Couch to 5k app as it is simple to use and the Couch to 5k plan is easy to follow.
The app also gives you a choice of coaches and helps you track your progress.
Couch to 5k training plan Q&A
Q: Am I fit enough to start Couch to 5k?
A: The beauty of the Couch to 5k training plan is that it is designed for complete beginners. In fact, during the first few weeks of the plan you’ll be doing more walking than running.
Q: What if I don’t feel ready to run 5k by the end of the training plan?
A: If you find you need more time by the end of the Couch to 5k program, this is completely fine. Some people take longer to reach their 5k goal. Sometimes life gets in the way and you miss a couple of training runs.
Q: What happens if I need to take a break during the training plan?
A: Don’t worry – just pick it up again at a time that feels right for you and keep going. The most important part is that you keep going and do not lose momentum.
Q: Can I repeat a week if I don’t feel ready to move onto the next week?
A: Yes! You can choose to repeat a week if you need more time. Try and focus on the week ahead and really practice your technique before moving onto the next week.
Q: Can I skip some of the rest days and just schedule more runs?
A: The temptation when you start running is to rush through a plan or run every day because you love it. Use the designated rest days – if you progress too quickly you could risk burnout or injury.
My 10 week Couch to 5k training plan
Here are a few key points about the plan:
- Each week is broken down to show you exactly what you’ll be working on during that week.
- Each week has three runs and four rest days.
- Each running session is broken up into running and walking intervals, so you won’t be running non-stop at this early stage until at least week 7 of the plan.
Don’t forget to download my 10 week Couch to 5k training PDF at the end of this guide.
- Monday: Run 1 min, walk 1 min, repeat 10 times
- Wednesday: Run 1 min, walk 1 min, repeat 10 times
- Saturday: Run 1 min, walk 1 min, repeat 10 times
- Monday: Run 2 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 6 times
- Wednesday: Run 2 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 6 times
- Saturday: Run 2 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 6 times
- Monday: Run 3 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 5 times
- Wednesday: Run 3 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 5 times
- Saturday: Run 3 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 5 times
- Monday: Run 5 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 3 times
- Wednesday: Run 5 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 3 times
- Saturday: Run 5 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 3 times
- Monday: Run 8 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Wednesday: Run 8 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Saturday: Run 8 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Monday: Run 10 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Wednesday: Run 10 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Saturday: Run 10 mins, walk 3 mins, repeat 2 times
- Monday: Run 12 mins, walk 2 mins, repeat 2 times
- Wednesday: Run 15 mins, walk 1 min, repeat 2 times
- Saturday: Run 20 mins
- Monday: Run 20 mins
- Wednesday: Run 20 mins
- Saturday: Run 25 mins
- Monday: Run 25 mins
- Wednesday: Run 25 mins
- Saturday: Run 30 mins
- Monday: Run 30 mins
- Wednesday: Run 30 mins
- Saturday: 5k race!
10 tips for running Couch to 5k
#1 Establish a routine
It’s important when you start the Couch to 5k training plan to establish a running routine that fits in with your lifestyle.
Fitting a run into a busy schedule can be challenging, but it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll fit your runs into your weekly routine as consistency is key.
If this means getting up half an hour earlier in the morning, or setting aside some time on your lunch break to go out for a run, then try and establish a routine that works for you early on.
#2 Slow down
The temptation is to run non-stop at a fast pace (whatever that means for you) as soon as you begin your run.
Beginner running is a marathon, not a sprint (excuse the pun), so slow down and maintain a steady pace.
You should be able to comfortably hold a conversation whilst you run.
If you’re out of breath or struggling to talk, that’s a sign you need to slow down when running.
#3 Perfect your running form
Good running form is so important when it comes to running.
My guide on running form and technique goes into more detail, but here are a few simple tips:
- Try not to look at the ground when running – keep your gaze upright and forward.
- Lift your chin and retract your shoulders back slightly.
- Keep your arms by your sides (try not to let them cross your body) and keep them relaxed to avoid stiffness.
- Don’t overstride – your foot should land under your hips or slightly in front of you.
- Keep your knees soft and bent and let your heels float up behind you.
#4 Be positive
When running the Couch to 5k training plan, it’s good to think about why you are running and what it is about running that you enjoy.
By practice positive thinking, it will help to drown out some of that negative self-talk that you may have whirring around in your head.
Once you clear your mind of those niggly thoughts, you’ll find it much easier to run.
Running the Couch to 5k training plan can be a hugely transformative journey for many runners.
When you first start running the tendency for a lot of runners is to focus on what they’re doing wrong, instead of focusing on all the things that they are doing to improve their physical and mental health.
Write down some of your thoughts and ask yourself the following questions:
- What has gone well?
- What hasn’t gone so well?
- What have you found difficult?
- What could you improve?
- What would you do differently?
#6 Sign up for a race
By committing to a race, you will have more accountability to finish the program and stick with the plan.
Running your first race is a scary thing, but it’s also exciting! You’re bound to have pre-race nerves. This is completely natural and is a familiar feeling for a lot of runners.
You have a few options when it comes to registering for your first race.
One of the simplest is Parkrun. Parkrun is a free, weekly timed run that takes place every Saturday morning in locations across the UK and the globe.
To find your nearest Parkrun, visit the Parkrun website where you will find more details on how to sign up for the race.
#7 Run with others
One of the best things about running is being able to run with others.
It’s a great way to meet new people and make yourself accountable for your runs.
It also makes running a lot more fun as you get to run with a group of like-minded people who are working towards a common goal.
#8 Listen to your body
Your body provides you with constant feedback that can help improve your running performance while minimising biomechanical stress.
Learn to differentiate between the discomfort of effort and the pain of injury.
When you practice listening, you increase competence in persevering through the discomfort and responding to pain.
Know when to stop if you ever feel pain.
A good way to practice listening to your body is to run on your own every now and again.
This means ditching the music and anything else that you could distract you. You can think of it as mindful running!
#9 Race prep
Success on race day is all about being prepared during your training plan and before the event.
- Take time to refuel and hydrate after each of your runs and remember to warm up and cool down after each run to avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
- If you’re used to running on flat roads, for example, the race course may throw up some unexpected obstacles in the form of hills and uneven terrain. You may even want to visit the race course and see what it looks and feels like.
- Think about what you’ll eat before your run. Keep it light so it doesn’t feel too heavy on your stomach.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast and think about what you’ll wear on the day.
#10 Don’t compare yourself to others
The biggest lesson learnt for me when I ran my first 5k was not to compare myself to other runners.
And I’d like to stress this to you too.
Run your own race and don’t let anyone else’s opinion or view on what you should be doing affect your race.
Your performance in the 5k race will not define you. If you have a bad race, there will be others to work towards.
Like many things in this world, running is a continual journey of improvement marked with success and failures. After all, failure is what makes you a stronger and more motivated runner.
Couch to 5k program PDF
Here is the week by week plan in table format so you can see each week.
Feel free to download and save locally so you can refer to it during your training.
What to do after Couch to 5k
Congratulations! You’ve finished the Couch to 5k training plan and now you may be wondering what to do next.
I’ve written a guide on what to do after Couch to 5k, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Run a faster 5k. You may want to improve on your first 5k race time.
- Run a 10k. Many runners go on to complete a 10k having run their first 5k.
- Join a running group. Couch to 5k program may have given you the running bug. Joining a running group is a great way to maintain momentum and keep your running mojo alive.