Couch to 5K Plan – Best Guide For 2021
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We’ve all been there: you tell yourself that you’re only going to watch one more episode on Netflix and then you suddenly find yourself still watching at one o’clock in the morning. It’s easy to get caught in a sedentary cycle. The Couch to 5K program aims to help you get off the couch and on your feet at a pace that works for you.
Between working and commuting and all the typical adulting in between, all you may want to do at the end of a long day is sink into your sofa, potentially with potato chips. While spending an hour cycling through categories looking for something to watch may feel exhausting, it’s not exercise. Do you know what one of the easiest and low maintenance workouts is? Running.
It can be difficult to imagine yourself going from pajama parties for one to keeping pace with your neighborhood run club. By creating a plan for training and scheduling your runs and workouts, you can ease yourself into a more active lifestyle. Keep reading this article to learn how to make the Couch to 5k program work for you.
Benefits of Running 5K
Most people know there are benefits to running and just being active in general. Once you start running on the regular, you’ll instantly reap the benefits of your new, active lifestyle. Of course, everybody is different, but here are a few of the rewards you’ll gain on your journey to running 5K:
- Weight management
- Increased bone strength and density
- Increased muscle tone
- Stronger heart and lungs
- Lower cholesterol
- Improved mood
- Lower stress levels
Running burns a lot of energy—400-700 calories, in fact. So if you’re looking for a gym-free way to burn through some calories, running is a great option.
Increased Bone Density
Increased bone density helps protect your bones from fractures and osteoporosis. The denser the bone, the less prone to fractures, which your body will thank you for as you age.
Increased Muscle Tone
If you’re looking to get leaner, running is for you. Muscle definition is a definite bonus, as running sculpts the leg, glute, and ab muscles.
Stronger Heart and Lungs
Cardio workouts bring more oxygen into the body and train your heart and lungs to use oxygen even more efficiently. Soon you won’t mind taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Lower Blood Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a leading factor in heart disease and stroke, which is pretty scary. The good news is, it’s largely preventable with regular exercise and a balanced diet.
With running, happiness is free. Your running workout will flood your system with endorphins which will elevate your mood and give you more energy. It’s that “runners’ high” you’ve heard so much about.
Lower Stress Levels
Many health professionals recommend exercise, particularly running, to combat negative feelings and emotions, and even as part of a treatment plan for conditions like depression.
So What is the Couch to 5K Plan?
You’re going to be glad you asked. If your daily routine involves your commute to your office chair and then straight to your couch, the idea of successfully running five whole kilometres can seem as far-fetched as that glass of water you left on the kitchen counter and are now too comfortable to get.
Created in 1996 by Josh Clark, the Couch to 5K plan is designed to get you to run five kilometres in manageable training increments over the course of nine weeks. This way, you won’t feel overwhelmed or get discouraged at not being able to do it right away. It takes at least 2 weeks to a month to get into a running routine, so this gives you time to adapt and work up to 5K.
Joshua Clark, inventor of the Couch to 5K Plan
Small, realistic goals and consistent training are the keys to success here. In just 20-30 minutes per workout, three days per week, you’ll be on your way to 5K. Workouts begin with a warm-up, end with a cool-down, and will guide you through intermittent running and walking in between. By the end of the Couch to 5k program, you’ll be running up roads and hills no problem.
Pro Tools: Couch to 5K in the Palm of Your Hand
If you’re like a lot of people these days, you do nearly everything from your phone. From banking to email, Apple Pay and more, you’re used to getting things done on the go. Luckily, there are a couple of digital tools that make sticking to the program that much easier.
Get the Official Couch to 5K App
Yep, there’s an app for that. The Couch to 5K app helps you to stay on-program with easy workout tracking. It’s like having an invisible running coach, with audio cues to guide your daily run. You’ll also get a daily detailed workout guide and be able to track your progress over the course of the eight-week program. Just keep in mind some features are only available for purchase in-app, and the free version does show annoying ads (capitalist society, am I right?).
Other bells and whistles included in the app experience are:
- Curated music playlists
- Route mapping
- MyFitnessPal integration
- Social media connectivity
- iPhone and Android compatibility
- Apple Watch, smartwatch, and Fitbit compatibility
A good way to gauge whether an app is worth the download is to check out the reviews first. The C25K® 5K Trainer App on Apple’s App Store has a 4.7/5 rating. The overwhelming majority of users seem to be happy with the program, although some note various functionality issues.
Incredible! Highly recommend it to people looking to start living a more active life.
“Absolutely wonderful app! C25K has made me love running! This app has pretty much reintroduced me to a healthy lifestyle after years of inactivity. Because of my newfound interest in running, I now take way better care of myself. Honestly life changing.” – Jctgwfa, 2019-09-10
Android users also seem pretty happy with this app, giving it an overall rating of 4.5/5 on Google Play. As with the iPhone app, the Android version seems to have functionality issues for a minority of users.
“Only on day 3 but so far I love it! Straightforward, no fuss, achievable goals to crush. And that’s the free version!” – B. McAndrew, 2020-02-08
Couch to 5K NHS Podcast
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has a number of ongoing initiatives to help UK citizens stay fit. Fortunately for the rest of us, their Couch to 5K podcast can also be taken advantage of by those of us across the pond. This is an alternative to the official C25K app if you’re not interested in tracking your stats but still want some digital coaching through the Couch to 5K Program.
Each episode is approximately 30 minutes, just long enough to last the duration of your workout. This nine-episode series features guided weekly workouts with great music and narrated cues for your warm-ups, cool-downs, and rest periods in between. You can find the NHS Couch to 5K podcast, and others like it, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.
Couch to 5K Training Plan
By now you’re wondering what exactly the Couch to 5K running plan entails. Well, the program is broken down into nine week-long modules. Every week, you will have three workouts with rest days in between. The workouts increase in intensity as the weeks go on until you are ready to tackle a 5K run by the end of week nine.
In the beginning, your workouts will be short intervals of walking and jogging that you repeat for 20-30 minutes. Let’s look at a snapshot of some weeks in the Couch to 5K workout plan.
Three runs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will walk for 5 minutes, jog for 2 minutes, and walk for 5 minutes again. Repeat the sequence for 20-30 minutes.
By week five, each run is varied. You’ll run for longer intervals, but with the previous runs behind you, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
First run: walk 5 minutes, jog 9 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Repeat.
Second run: jog 6 minutes, walk 6 minutes, jog 6 minutes, walk 6 minutes. Repeat.
Third run: walk 5 minutes, jog 10 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Repeat.
Fourth run: walk 5 minutes, jog 11 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Repeat.
At week nine your runs will be significantly longer than when you started. You’ll be able to judge when you need to slow down or take a break, and give yourself a buffer at the beginning and end of your workout with a brisk walk.
First run: jog 20 minutes.
Second run: jog 12 minutes, walk five minutes, jog 12 minutes.
Third run: jog 24 minutes.
Fourth run: jog 24 minutes.
Top Tips to Take You to Running 5K
It’s always exciting to start a new fitness routine, but it’s good to set a few ground rules for yourself before diving right in. Remember, you want to set yourself up for success. Read on to learn about what you can do to make it all the way to 5K and enjoy the journey.
Pick Your Pace
The Couch to 5K program is tailored toward newbie runners, so it’s okay to take it slow. If you’re not ready to move on to the next week’s challenges, that’s okay! Stick with the workouts you’re doing until you’re ready to move on. Make the workouts part of a weekly routine, and plan so that you have time to do them.
Your rest days are just as important as running days. Running is a high-impact activity and hard on your joints, so be sure to give your body time to recover. On off-days, you could even incorporate some stretching at home, or try a low-impact yoga class.
Don’t Skip the Warm-Up
Stretching and walking before you run might seem like no big deal, but it’s actually an important part of your workout. Warm-ups prepare your joints and muscles for your workout, and your cool-down will help to gradually lower your heart rate and regulate your breathing after your run.
Couch to 5K Training Schedule
Deciding to make running part of your routine takes commitment, and keeping that commitment takes planning. Altogether, the Couch to 5K program only asks for 90 minutes per week. Thinking of it this way makes it easier to carve out some time for your workouts. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the sample training schedule below.
|1||Walk: 5 minsJog: 2 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 2 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 3 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|2||Walk: 5 minsJog: 3 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 4 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 5 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|3||Walk: 5 minsJog: 6 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 4 minsWalk: 5 minsJog: 4 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 7 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|4||Walk: 5 minsJog: 7 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 8 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 9 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|5||Walk: 5 minsJog: 9 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 6 minsWalk: 5 minsJog: 6 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 10 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Walk: 5 minsJog: 11 minsWalk: 5 mins|
|6||Walk: 5 minsJog: 11 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 13 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 15 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|7||Jog: 15 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 8 minsWalk: 5 minsJog: 8 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 16 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 17 minsWalk: 5 mins|
|8||Jog: 17 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 18 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 20 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Rest day|
|9||Jog: 20 mins||Rest day||Jog: 12 minsWalk: 5 minsJog: 12 mins||Rest day||Jog: 24 minsWalk: 5 mins||Rest day||Jog: 24 mins|
Essential Workout Gear for Runners
Compared to the cost of membership at your local gym, running can be a fairly inexpensive workout routine. Most people already have running shoes, but don’t think that’s all you need. Your ideal running gear is not too different from what you wear to the gym. There are a few essential items that can get you started on the right foot:
- Running shoes
- Running jacket
- Running clothes
- Running socks
- Water bottles
Wearing the proper shoes for your run is critical for a comfortable run. More than that, a good pair of runners with proper arch support and midsole cushioning will help prevent injuries like foot fractures, tendinitis, and other repetitive stress injuries.
Here’s what to look for in a shoe:
- Proper fit: if you’re shopping in-store, use that weird metal foot sizer for an accurate fit. Online, follow your favorite brand’s guidelines for measuring. The right shoe should be like a glove for your foot, snug around the foot and ankle with a little wiggle room for your toes.
- Good cushioning: running is high-impact so you’ll need ample cushioning that conforms to the bottom of your feet.
- Heel height: some like a thick heel, some don’t. Learning your preference will help you choose a shoe that will keep you steady and stable while you run.
- Good flex: stiff soles are the enemy when it comes to running. Choose a flexible shoe that can help you push off with every step. It should feel a little bouncy.
- Material: you’ll need a breathable shoe, so double-check that the material can wick away sweat and help to keep your feet cool.
One great thing about the Couch to 5K program is that you can start any time. If you’re planning on running outdoors all year round, a running jacket will see you through all kinds of inclement weather. They come in a range of styles and price points.
What to look for in a good running jacket:
- Breathable fabric: running is hot and sweaty work, so look for moisture-wicking fabric.
- Waterproof and wind-resistant: this will keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions (except for blizzards, hail storms, hurricanes, and weather that is just plain dangerous to be in).
- Movement: make sure you have a full range of comfortable movement in your jacket.
- Color and reflectives: you’ll want to be visible during the day and at night, so choose a color that won’t get lost in the scenery during the day, with reflective strips that will keep you visible at night for your own safety.
Besides a running jacket, you might want to invest in some clothes specifically designed for running. No, not your sweat pants that double as pajamas. Look for running clothes in technical fabrics that will work overtime to wick away sweat and keep you cool while you burn through your workouts. Long sleeve tops with thumb holes are great, and you’ll want long pants and shorts as well.
Running socks are a definite running essential. They’re on the frontline of keeping your feet comfortable and free of moisture during your run. Athletic socks and compression socks are the best for running. Stay tuned, we’ll get into that in the next section.
Hydration is important in general, but it’s especially critical for runners. Staying hydrated will help your body to regulate its natural cooling system. When choosing a water bottle, look for portability and capacity. That is, how much water you want to carry with you, and how you will carry it so you can stay hands-free.
Wearing the Right Running Gear Based on Weather
You can use any combination of your basics depending on the weather and your comfort level. Here’s a chart of recommended pieces for adverse weather and extreme temperatures.
|Running top – long sleeve||✓||✓||✓|
|Running top – short sleeve||✓||✓|
Best Socks for Runners
No matter the running outfit you choose for your workouts, you’ve gotta wear socks. There are socks that are great for runners specifically. If you’re having trouble deciding, here’s a good breakdown of your options.
Here’s a nightmare scenario. You commit to the Couch to 5K plan. You get out there three days a week, doing your runs like a boss. Before long, you develop painful blisters on your feet, and you give up your workouts entirely. One bad blister can stop you in your tracks, but a good pair of athletic socks can help protect your feet from that dreaded friction injury. On top of that, athletic socks draw moisture away from the feet to keep odor and fungal infections at bay.
Compression socks go up to the knee and provide mild pressure on the lower legs. This helps to promote healthy circulation and move blood back to the heart more efficiently. Avid runners love compression socks because, in addition to keeping the legs warm, they help to reduce muscle cramps. This makes it easier to run for longer and makes for easy recovery on rest days.
From Couch Potato to 5K: You’ve Got This
The Couch to 5K program is nothing to be intimidated about, and that’s by design. Created with the average person in mind, the program is broken down into manageable weekly routines. Start and continue at a pace that works for you, and in a few short weeks you’ll be kicking up dust running a full 5K. There’s nothing that beats the joy of reaching a personal best, and the Couch to 5K program is a great way to get there.
For the digitally minded, helpful apps and podcasts can help you take your workout to the next level. Great running gear is also a must. Along with essential running clothes, athletic socks and compression socks will be your workout MVPs. Now go out there and get running while your favorite spot on the couch becomes a distant memory.