If you’re a beginner runner, then you may be considering the Couch to 5k plan to get you started on your running journey.
The Couch to 5k plan is popular the world over, and millions of people have used the plan to form a regular running habit.
We all know that starting something new can be challenging, especially when you don’t know where to start.
That’s precisely why the Couch to 5k plan is so great because it tells you exactly what you need to do and when.
The Couch to 5k plan in this guide will give you everything you need to know to get running.
So whether you’re starting running to get fit, improve your mental health, lose weight or to simply get outdoors more, then what better way to start your running journey!
In this guide we’ll explore:
- What is the Couch to 5k plan?
- How does the Couch to 5k plan work?
- Why is the Couch to 5k plan so popular?
- How long is the Couch to 5k plan?
- What is the best Couch to 5k app?
- Couch to 5k plan Q&A
- 10 tips for running Couch to 5k
- Couch to 5k plan: Week by week plan
- What to do after Couch to 5k
Don’t forget to download the Couch to 5k plan PDF at the end of this guide.
Let’s get started!
What is Couch to 5k plan?
The Couch to 5k plan 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 banded around 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.
He also wanted to help newbie runners establish a running routine.
Couch to 5k has gone on to become one of the most popular running training plans out there.
And it continues to be used by runners throughout the world to help them start their running journey.
How does the Couch to 5k plan work?
The Couch to 5k plan works by combining walking and running intervals.
Intervals are essentially periods of exercise followed by periods of rest or ‘active recovery’.
Many beginner runners think they should be able to run continuously without stopping when they first start running.
This is simply not true!
The Couch to 5k plan is designed to slowly increase your endurance and stamina.
It works by increasing the amount of time in which you run and decreasing the walking break intervals.
This way it gently eases you into running over the course of the plan, without putting too much pressure on you.
Why is Couch to 5k plan so popular?
The plan is so popular because it gradually eases you into running and provides a beginner-friendly route into running.
With 2.36 million of these downloads taking place between March 2020 and July 2021 alone!
More and more people look to find a simple way to become more active.
There are no signs of the Couch to 5k program slowing down.
NHS England even recommend the plan to help you become more active.
How long is the Couch to 5k plan?
Most Couch to 5k plans are between 9 to 12 weeks.
10 weeks is generally considered the most appropriate time frame to go from couch to 5k.
The training plan in this guide is 10 weeks long as it is the most effective method to build up to your first 5k.
Of course, how long it takes you to complete the plan will depend on various factors.
These include your age, gender, running experience and fitness levels.
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 our guide on running for beginners apps.
The NHS Couch to 5k app as it is simple to use and the Couch to 5k plan on the app is easy to follow.
It breaks down each run in an easy to understand way, and allows you to track your progress over the course of the plan.
The app also gives you a choice of running coaches to motivate you on your run.
Couch to 5k plan Q&A
Q: Am I fit enough to start Couch to 5k?
A: The beauty of the Couch to 5k 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.
It is generally recommended that you are able to walk for 30 minutes without stopping before starting the plan.
Q: Will I lose weight by running Couch to 5k?
A: The Couch to 5k plan is not designed to help you lose weight, but if you end up shedding a few pounds by doing the plan, then this is an added benefit!
The plan is temporary and lasts a certain number of weeks.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then it is recommended you start a more permanent exercise routine combined with a calorie-controlled diet.
You can read more in our running for weight loss guide.
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 plan, this is completely fine.
Some people need more time to reach their 5k goal. Sometimes life just gets in the way!
If you miss a couple of training runs, just repeat that week or re-plan your week so you can do them another time.
The important thing is that you remain consistent throughout the plan.
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 or if you’d like to repeat a week.
Q: Can I skip some of the rest days and just schedule more runs?
A: Running can be addictive, especially when you first start running.
The temptation when you start is to run every day, but be cautious with this approach as you could risk burnout and injury.
Use the designated rest days – they are there for a reason to allow your body to recover in between the scheduled runs.
10 tips for running Couch to 5k
#1 Establish a routine
It’s important when you start the Couch to 5k plan to establish a running routine that fits in with your lifestyle.
Fitting a run into a busy schedule can be challenging.
It’s a good idea to think about how you’ll fit your runs into your weekly routine as consistency is key.
This may mean getting up half an hour earlier in the morning, or setting aside some time on your lunch break to go out for a run.
The key is to 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.
Our 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 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 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.
It’s important to find running groups that suit your goals and running experience.
#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, learning from failure is what makes you a stronger and more motivated runner!
Couch to 5k plan: Week by week plan
Each week is broken down to show you exactly what you’ll be working on during that week.
There are three runs and four rest days each week.
Each running session is broken up into running and walking intervals.
This is so you won’t be running non-stop at this early stage until at least week 7 of the plan.
- Monday: Run 1 min, walk 1 min, repeat 10 times (10 runs in total)
- 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 (6 runs in total)
- 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 (5 runs in total)
- 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 (3 runs in total)
- 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 (2 runs in total)
- 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 (2 runs in total)
- 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 (2 runs in total)
- 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!
What to do after Couch to 5k
Congratulations! You’ve finished the Couch to 5k plan and now you may be wondering what to do next.
#1 Keep running
Many runners who complete Couch to 5k go on to complete 10k races, half marathons and even marathons.
Now you’ve started running and created a consistent running routine, it would be shame to lose momentum.
Think about your running goals now you have completed Couch to 5k: where do you want to go next?
Make sure you set goals that are S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound).
#2 Run a faster 5k
Now you have completed your first 5k, you may feel you want to improve on your race times and run a faster 5k.
There are training plans out there that are designed to get you running a faster 5k, depending on your running goals and running experience.
#3 Run a 10k
If your training went well and feel ready to conquer your next challenge, then consider training for a 10k.
At 6.2 miles, a 10k is effectively double the distance of a 5k (3.1 miles), so you’ll need to work on your endurance and stamina.
Check out our guide on the best 5k to 10k running apps if you want to learn how to run a 10k.
#4 Join a running group
If you’re keen to continue running but don’t have a support network around you to cheer you on, then consider joining a running group.
Joining a running group is a great way to provide accountability and motivation on your runs.
Be sure to find a running group that is in line with your running goals, fitness levels and running experience.
Couch to 5k plan PDF printable
- Mental resilience when running: A guide for beginner female runners - December 2, 2023
- Fuelling your run: A female runner’s guide to nutrition and running performance - November 29, 2023
- Running on a busy schedule: 10 tips for time-strapped women - November 28, 2023