Couch to 5k - complete the training plan in just 30 days

a close up of a woman running couch to 5k on a busy urban street

The couch to 5k challenge is perfect for getting you running at a pace that suits you.

Starting a 5k challenge is great if you’re wanting to switch up your walking for weight loss and start running instead. Designed for complete beginners or those that want to to get back into the swing of things, it lets you build up to it easily and slowly. So there’s no need to panic that you’re not fit enough or that you don’t know what to do, as all you need is to decide that you want to do a little exercise every day to see some real results.

"I hated running, until I pushed through that barrier for the first time and now I run ultra marathons," Will Goodge, Head coach at Puresport Run Club tells us. "Running can become a therapy, a community and a passion that can help all aspects of your life, it just takes those first few steps."

What is the couch to 5k plan?

The famous couch to 5k plan is a running challenge that gets people running with a target of eventually reaching a 5km distance.

"Couch to 5k is the most universally known and used tool to get into running the most popular distance out there," explains Will of Puresport Run Club. "5k is the initial big distance to stick to or use as a ladder to go further and faster."

Whilst it's known for being one of the best fitness apps on the market, there are other variations out there. And we at GoodtoKnow have also developed our very own free 30-day to 5k challenge cheat sheet to help you get started.

The plan starts with you running for three minutes in 30 second intervals on day one. And increases this time a little bit each day across the month until you're officially running 5km.

It's worth noting that as it's designed for beginners, we've set aside 10 rest days spread throughout the 30 day plan. Where you can do a lighter or less intense exercise activity. We've also added in a few 'prehab' muscle-activating warm up exercises like the plank and static bridge. With the aim of getting you going and improving your general fitness if you're up to the extra task.

A infographic showing GoodtoKnow's couch to 5k 30 day running plan

Credit: GoodtoKnow

How to get started

Getting started with the 5k plan couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is download the 30-day couch to 5k challenge plan, print it off and stick it up somewhere that will motivate you to do your daily exercise. We recommend the fridge or popping it next to your bedside table. Basically somewhere that you'll definitely come across during your daily routine.

A positive and determined attitude to succeed is also encouraged to get going. As is some practical footwear (trainers) and comfy and breathable gym clothing like leggings and a t-shirt.

Once you've dressed the part (and done a few stretches) simply read our easy-to-follow exercises as outlined on the sheet. So you’ll know exactly what to do. Then it's ready, set, go...

Advice for new runners

What to do

1. Walk and run

"My tips for any new runner is always, don’t be afraid to walk," says Will. "As you build your cardiovascular base, don’t feel you have to run or jog every single step. Stopping to walk for a minute is still adding to your training and ability to run further next time out. It’s better to run and walk 3km in total than run 2km and call it quits."

Charlotte Arter, ambassador for running apparel specialist Saucony UK agrees: "I recommend you build in intervals of running and walking to get your confidence and then go from there. Once you’ve mastered running for a minute and then walking for a minute, you can start to increase the time you spend running and look to increase your distance at the same time."

2. Set yourself goals

Charlotte tells us: ‘This can be short term and long term – it always helps to have something tangible to work to. Once you meet your goal of running for a longer period of time without walking and then eventually running a 5k distance without stopping, your next target can be improving on your time for the 5k.

"The main thing is not to rush to meet your goals and to always look back on what you have achieved, big or small, they are all achievements!"

3. Keep it interesting

When starting out as a runner with your first 5k in mind, it’s important to keep things fresh. And that includes the routes that you run. The last thing you want to do is get bored of running when you’ve only just begun.

Charlotte explains: "Running is a great way to get to know your area, so make sure you are making the most of it. A great way to find out the best routes would be through apps like Strava and MapMyRun where other runners share their favourite loops."

a woman running couch to 5k next to water

Credit: Getty

4. Consistency is king

This is really important. "Everyone lives such busy lives, but if you can establish a weekly routine where you’re running regularly that makes a huge difference to your end result and meeting your personal goals," explains Charlotte.

"Sometimes the last thing you might want to do is pull on your trainers. But the feeling of achievement and endorphin release after a run (of any distance) makes it all worth it."

5. Think about your fuel

You may find that if you go out first thing, you don’t need any food beforehand. But often, eating before exercise - particularly an hour or two before - can help boost your performance.

Charlotte reveals that she typically has a bowl of porridge.  And this is a good healthy breakfast choice if jogging in the morning. A Harvard medical school study highlights that eating carbohydrates before running is wise - as this is what your body turns into fuel. And regular oats contain up to 70% carbohydrates.

Similarly, a generous helping of good fats are important. With one 2018 study showing that the body also uses fats to fuel your workout (known as 'fat oxidation')

Nutracheck Fitness expert Kelly Marshall agrees that eating well is also imperative:

"It’s true that you can’t out-train a bad diet. To get the maximum benefit from your 5k plan, you need to make sure your nutrition is as focused as your exercise. The Nutracheck App is a must-have tool if you want to monitor your diet and track your calorie intake".

Hydration is also imperative, with the handy H20 helping us to prevent injury and illness. A different 2018 study warns that dehydration when active can cause fatigue, headaches, sickness and muscle cramping.

"Making sure you drink plenty of water long before going out on a run or any form of exercise is also key,’ adds Charlotte.

What to avoid

1. Never forget to warm up

"There's nothing that kills your progress like an injury," warns running coach Will. "Ensure you are buying into some stretching and a light warm up before you get out the door.  It can be as simple as 5 minutes extra work, but is worth it in my books."

One study in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that a good warmup opens up your blood vessels and gets precious oxygen to your muscles which will aid both flexibilty and efficiency. Whilst another 2018 study stated that stretching before helped prepare for a better exercise performance.

2. Don't ignore pain

Always, always listen to your body.

A few aches that come and go is normally nothing to worry about. But if you're experiencing severe continous pain in one area it may be an injury that needs attention. Be sure to get it checked out by a doctor before running again.

3. Don't give up

"Starting to run can be a scary concept, says Nutracheck fitness expert Kelly Marshall. "But the key is following a systematic, progressive plan to support your body and get it accustomed to impact and an increasing distance."

It's important to be realistic with the couch to 5k plan as you build up your running. So don't expect a personal best every time. And remember that some days you may be tired which won't result in the best performance. But carrying on is key.

How many days a week should I run to train for 5K?

According to the experts you should run 3 times a week when working up to a 5k.

"Aim to run 3 days a week when training for a 5km," running coach Will tells us. "Once you feel comfortable with that many days see if you can do 4 days. But adding gradually is always best, most sustainable and reduces the risk of injury."

The NHS who also run their own couch to 5k programme similarly advocate for running 3 days a week in total. And there's many reasons why 3 days is a good starting point:

The Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training carried out their own marathon study requiring subjects to run three days a week (and supplimenting the other two days with time on a cross-trainer). In addition to 'quality over quantity' were the benefits of increased energy, decreased risk of injury and loss of belly fat.

What happens if I run 5km every day?

There is nothing stopping you from running 5km a day if you want to. And in fact Will certainly advocates for it.

"Running 5km every day when you’re able to can have a whole host of benefits," he tells us. "You’ll be tapping into good endorphin production so your mood will be elevated. And with that extra blood flow to your brain it will help you focus and keep your energy levels hit throughout the day.

"If weight loss is your goal you will achieve that too if you are running whilst following a healthy and balanced diet. Your fitness and lower body strength will improve. And running is such a common need for so many other sports, so those should get easier too."

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.