Couch to 5K in just six weeks? Here’s the training plan you’ve been looking for

New to running and want to go from couch to 5K? Follow our beginner’s 5K schedule.

Whether you are starting from scratch or building up again following an injury, if you want to run 5K, you’ve come you’ve come to the right place. This beginners training plan will help you to build your fitness, taking you from couch to 5K in just six weeks.

This plan starts with a series of run-walk intervals, and gradually increases your time spent running until you can complete the full distance.

Why the intervals or breaks? When we start running, our bodies need time to adapt to the new demands we are placing on them, and to get used to absorbing the impact. By adding these structured, short walking breaks into the sessions, we can gradually build our running volume over time at a safe rate.

Over the six weeks of this program, you will gradually spend less of the time walking and more time running, until eventually there are no more walking intervals and you can run 5k non-stop.

Building up to running 5K is a great goal for beginner runners. With parkrun – the completely free weekly 5K – available in locations across Australia and NZ, it’s never been easier to test yourself over the distance in a welcoming, inclusive environment.

The history of the Couch to 5K plan

The original Couch to 5k training plan was devised by American Josh Clark, back in the mid-1990s. He wasn’t a runner himself at the time, but following a break-up in his early 20s he took it up and found running at first to be ‘punishing and painful’. But he persisted, and it started to feel good – ‘physically, mentally and even spiritually’.

It was during this period that he create a plan to help his mum to take up running too. He wanted to introduce it more gently to her, so that she could see the rewards and avoid what he called in a BBC interview the ‘dreary horrible ramp-up’ that he had experienced.

The result was the Couch to 5K plan, which he put online in 1996. Word began to spread, and communities grew, spreading the word of its benefits and successes. By the mid-2000s it was rocketing in popularity and since then, he estimates tens of millions of people have benefitted from the programme – even the NHS recommends it.

Here’s everything you need to know about going from Couch to 5K

Is it normal to feel pain when you start running?

It’s perfectly normal to feel some discomfort and aches when you first start running, as your body gets used to it. However, pain isn’t normal. If something feels so sore or acute that you have to run with a limp or otherwise alter your stride, then you are probably injured. Stop running immediately, and take a few days off. If you’re not sure, try walking for a minute or two to see if the discomfort disappears. If it doesn’t disappear, consult your GP or a physiotherapist if possible. Contrary to what some people suggest, you cannot ‘run off’ an injury.

What kit do you need?

One of the many great things about running is how little kit you actually need. For clothing, an old T-shirt and shorts or leggings will do, at least to start with. However, investing in a pair of decent running shoes will make a huge difference to your progress. You can find cheap running shoes if you shop around, especially in the sales, or if your budget is tight, you can pick up some great second-hand pairs on sites such as eBay or on running forums on Facebook. A dedicated pair of running shoes will help absorb impact from the pavement, provide energy return to help you run further and be breathable.

What running shoes are best for beginners?

If you’re new to running, the chances are you’ll be looking to invest in a pair of running shoes that will get you moving (no, those old Converse won’t do). The key thing consideration here is comfort; save the carbon plate running shoes for when you’re further along your running journey. Check out our round up of the best running shoes for beginners.

Do you need to stretch?

Doing some dynamic stretching – that is, stretching on the move, not standing still – before a run is a good idea as it will help to prepare the body for the task ahead. But as with all aspects of running, everyone is different, and pre-run stretching works for some but not others, so experiment and see what works for you.

Stretching after running, however, is recommended for all runners as not only does it help release muscle tension but it also aids recovery by increasing blood flow. If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at our beginner’s guide to post-run stretching.

Should you cross-train?

Incorporating cross-training into your running plans is a great way of improving all-around fitness and reducing your injury risk. The most popular forms of cross-training include cycling, rowing or swimming – but we advise sticking to what you most enjoy. Why? It adds variety to your training plan and it will also make your running goals easier to adapt if get injured.

Does nutrition matter?

To help your body go from couch to 5K, you’ll need to do the physical training, but it’s also important to make sure you fuel properly and eat a healthy, balanced diet to speed up your recovery time. Aim to keep your protein high, eat plenty of carbs before your longer sessions, and if you’re looking to really push the pace or distance, try experimenting with caffeine, too.

Our beginner 5K training plan:

The best thing you can do to level up your running is to follow – and really stick to – a plan. Our six-week plan, will take from the couch to 5K, tells you what days to run and how your workout is structured. This means you know exactly when you are due to go for a run – and provides both accountability and motivation. Let us know how you get on by tagging @runnersworldaus in your Instagram posts.

On race day: You will probably find that you can run at least 20 minutes before you need a break, but whatever your plan, start slowly and don’t wait until you are exhausted before taking some one-minute walk breaks. And, good luck!

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