For many runners, the Couch to 5k training plan is their first experience of running. It offers a fun and easy way in which to take up running and develop a life-long love of it.
Couch to 5k is not about being fast or being able to run for miles and miles without stopping.
The beauty of it is that is combines both walking and running and offers new runners simple ways to become a better and stronger runner.
Many runners think they need to be able to run for miles when they first take up running which simply isn’t true.
In fact, it’s normal when you first start out to walk more than run as you build up your speed, endurance and stamina.
In this blog post, I’d like to cover some common questions about the Couch to 5k programme and offer tips and advice for running your first Couch to 5k.
If you’ve been meaning to do it for a while, or you simply want to get more running experience under your belt, the Couch to 5k training plan is a great place to start.
Why is the Couch to 5k training plan so popular?
The Couch to 5k plan is one of the most popular running programmes, and for good reason: it offers a fun, flexible and accessible way to get into running.
It’s perfect for beginner runners and people with little or no experience of running as it involves weekly sets of walking and running.
This is normally over a 6, 9 or 12 week period depending on the training plan and fitness levels of the runner.
The key to Couch to 5k’s success is in its simplicity. Running doesn’t have to be complicated.
Through the Couch to 5k’s easy to follow weekly planned workouts you’ll be up and running in no time.
The fact that Couch to 5k is free to do and sets out an obtainable goal (3.1 miles) are also a major selling point of the programme.
How long does Couch to 5k typically last?
The Couch to 5k programme is normally spread across a 6, 9 or 12 week period.
The shorter the plan, the more demanding it will be so it’s good to choose a plan that matches your running experience, fitness levels and personal goals.
Each week you are given 2-3 workouts which are spread across the week.
You normally get a rest day in between each workout so it doesn’t become too demanding on your body.
Each workout lasts between 20-45 minutes so they aren’t too strenuous and you can fit them easily around work and other things.
What does the Couch to 5k training plan involve?
The Couch to 5k programme involves weekly sets of walking and running to time, not distance.
In week 1, you can expect to walk between 1-2 minutes and run between 1-2 minutes depending on the length of the plan.
As the weeks progress, you slowly build up the time in which you walk and run.
This helps you build up your speed and stamina so you can run for longer without walking or stopping.
Couch to 5k uses the popular concept of interval training. Interval training is moving at different speeds in a session.
By varying your speed your body is forced to adapt to various levels of activity which in turns makes you a better and stronger runner.
Instead of just sticking to a constant speed, Couch to 5k allows you to get better prepared for a race.
The training plan mixes things up on a weekly basis and better prepares your body for the 5k distance.
How fit do I need to be to do Couch to 5k?
One of the reasons Couch to 5k is so popular is because you don’t need to be an experienced runner or fitness fanatic to complete it.
Saying that, as with any form of exercise, you need a certain amount of aerobic fitness to get you started.
A rule of thumb I say to a lot of the people I run with in my running groups is that you should be able to walk for at least 15-20 minutes before you start the programme.
Will Couch to 5k help me develop a love of running?
With a Couch to 5k you train on a weekly basis and get to see your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Many runners who complete the Couch to 5k programme go onto to complete Parkrun and other organised 5k races, like Race for Life.
I know many runners who had never ran 100 metres before completing Couch to 5k, now they run regularly and attend running groups each week.
Whether or not you continue running once you complete Couch to 5k is completely up to you and your own personal preferences.
Joining a running group is a great way to keep the momentum going once the programme has finished.
Related: What to expect at your first Parkrun
Will Couch to 5k help me lose weight?
There are many factors that need to be considered when trying to lose weight.
If you stick to the programme and complete it but continue to have a poor diet, for example, this will affect the amount of weight you are able to lose across the 6, 9 or 12 week period.
In other words, you can’t lose weight with exercise alone.
The key is to combine it with a healthy and balanced diet and other forms of movement like strength training in order to get the most benefit.
A healthy diet, in particular, will give you the energy your body needs to complete the programme and set you up for longer term success.
How do I start the Couch to 5k training plan?
A good starting point is to download a Couch to 5k training plan. The following websites offer simple plans to get you going:
NHS 9-week Couch to 5k plan – this is one of my favourite plans as it’s so simple. The NHS also offer a really handy Couch to 5k app which you can download from the app store which I highly recommend.
Runner’s World 6 week Couch to 5k plan – this plan is slightly more intensive and is aimed at people with a bit more experience of running.
C25K 9-week Couch to 5k plan – this website offers a variety of plans in many different languages. There are also links here to some good Couch to 5k podcasts to help keep you motivated.
If you struggle to motivate yourself to go for a run, then I recommend you run with a friend or join a running group to keep you accountable for your runs.
I lead weekly running groups in and around Cambridge which are aimed at women looking to get into running and continue running.